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Posts tagged links

'Dragnet Nation' looks at the hidden systems that are always looking at you

I reviewed Julia Angwin’s book about surveillance for the LA Times.

For The New Republic, I dreamed up, in the paranoid style, some worst-case scenarios for Google’s robotics projects.

I interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Schultz about The Wherewithal, his new novel in verse. Topics discussed: the Shoah, Vietnam, being down and out in 1967 San Francisco, welfare, the poor as a minority, the specter of the Zodiac killer, failure, and using Wittgenstein as armor. Read it here.

Recent work

For the latest issue of Pacific Standard, I wrote about big data, “culturomics,” Google Ngram Viewer, and the new book Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture. The review is here and in the print edition of the mag.

Over at Al Jazeera America, I wrote about the data trade, how data brokers manipulate consumer information, corporate surveillance, and the need to regulate data brokers.

The Rise and Rise and Rise of SXSW


"Networking into the Abyss," my article about SXSW Interactive and Silicon Valley techno-utopianism, is now up at The Baffler (it came out in print in the magazine’s summer issue). In it, I try to go beyond the conventional complaints about commercialism and shameless networking to get at why SXSW is so pernicious, particularly in its fusion of masculinist corporatism and cyber-libertarianism. Besides being the tech industry’s preeminent festival of ideas, SXSW is in many ways a microcosm of Silicon Valley itself. Once a bastion of DIY, indie culture (it began as a small music festival), it’s since wholly given itself over to inflated myths of the glories of entrepreneurship, “disruption,” and the world-changing capabilities of the latest wearable gadget. Like Steve Jobs, it put away its drugs and learned how to marry corporate success and ruthless business acumen with vague nods towards the counterculture. (The recent influx of tech-industry moguls into Burning Man is the latest iteration of this phenomenon.)


And while the products and companies celebrated at SXSW often have important political and social consequences, the festival and its attendees present themselves as stylishly apolitical. That helps them to maintain a certain purity of purpose, an irrational self-belief, in the sense now common to Silicon Valley, that what they are doing is inherently important, that one can “save the world” by building a “great” company — even if it’s just a company that, like so many of its peers, collects user data en masse and sells it to advertisers. This is where libertarianism comes in, disguising itself as insouciant rebelliousness. “The traditional rules don’t apply to us,” these technological elites tell one another. Except they’re not doing graffiti or playing folk songs or marching in the streets; they’re ignoring workers’ rights and municipal regulations, because Uber is just that cool and the sharing economy should be brought to everyone. 


SXSW has changed Austin, its longtime home, a great deal. It’s now by far the biggest event in the city and a year-round operation, with festivals about education, music, film, the environment, and venture capital (that one, naturally, held in Las Vegas). During April, when most of SXSW’s events take place, downtown Austin resembles a privatized company town, a series of fiefdoms apportioned between Pepsi, Google, Samsung, and Doritos.


After my article went to press, SXSW announced a new sports festival, SXsports, to be held next year. Its metastasis is nearing stage four. It’s become a perpetual motion machine, growing because it has to, because the money and celebrities and corporate sponsorships (which are truly as insane and lavish and tone-deaf as you have heard) have become their own self-sustaining machine. But when so many people are getting rich and there’s such good feeling in the air, who’s to tell them to stop?

Read my article here.

I reviewed Ethan Zuckerman’s Rewire for the LA Review of Books.

For The New Republic I reviewed two novels about Internet obsession, Alina Simone’s Note to Self and Travis Nichols’ The More You Ignore Me.

I have a story in the latest issue of Kill Screen magazine about how UN Habitat wants to use Minecraft to re-design public spaces. Lots of great writers in this issue. Check it out.

I have a story in the latest issue of Kill Screen magazine about how UN Habitat wants to use Minecraft to re-design public spaces. Lots of great writers in this issue. Check it out.

"Bough Down," the first book by artist Karen Green, arrives trailing a train of sorrow. Green was married to writer David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide in September 2008. He was 46. Green has surfaced intermittently since then, giving few interviews. In 2009, at an exhibit in South Pasadena, she showed a piece called "The Forgiveness Machine," a 7-foot-long device into which one placed a piece of paper inscribed with what you wanted forgiven; the paper emerged, shredded, from the other end of the machine. The exhibition, one of her first public appearances since her husband’s death, was draining for Green, and she told an interviewer that she struggled to make it through. She never used the machine herself.
For the LAT, I reviewed “Bough Down,” Karen Green’s book about life and death with DFW. I thought it was pretty remarkable.

For the Los Angeles Review of Books, I wrote about Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger’s Jews and Words. 

Perhaps no religion has as much existential uncertainty baked into the product as Judaism. Who, or what, is a Jew? The question remains Jewishness’s most persistent quandary. In modern times, this has not only been a theological or anthropological question but also a political and military one: leaders as diverse as Adolf Hitler and David Ben-Gurion have sought to develop criteria that may nail down Jewishness as something discrete, distinctive, and susceptible to legislation. But still some confusion persists, some hazy aura around the edges of Jewish identity, evident in the thousand and one sects and offshoots and private credos that, collectively, constitute “the Jewish people.”

The rest is here.

Also, here’s my recent ode to Jean-Ralphio.

I wrote about the obsession with historical accuracy in this season’s holiday movies.

In the opening scene of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, text flashes onto the screen: “1858. Two years before the Civil War.” Tarantino has not only given us the year, but also added its relation to an monumentally important event in American history. He assumed, perhaps correctly, that this chronological hand-holding was necessary to adequately situate the film for viewers. Of course, it’s appropriate that it’s Tarantino, whose fidelity to history is nonexistent, who offers this curiously didactic moment.

The rest is here.