And the scariest part is your emotions may be up for sale.
Area Man Offers Opinion on New Product
For Politico Magazine, I wrote about the State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications and how social media is seen as a new battleground between jihadist and western government propaganda.
In the latest issue of The Baffler, I wrote about Processed World, a now-defunct Bay Area magazine that responded to an earlier wave of tech-driven gentrification. PW had a lot of smart things to say about work and its discontents, the computerization of the workplace, and a host of issues — corporate power, income inequality, unacknowledged forms of labr — that still matter today. If you want to read back issues of PW, try the Internet Archive or Bad Attitude, an anthology of the mag’s early years.
My latest is an essay for The New Inquiry on the Internet of Things. It’s about tech hucksterism, surveillance, feature creep, the world as feedback mechanism, the dubious promise of better living through data, and the appeal of dumb products.
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.
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.
"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?