For the NYT, Nellie Bowles delivers a class-based analysis of how we live and die in front of our screens. This is an idea we've touched on plenty here before: as the wealthy retreat offline, the life of the less privileged becomes ever more screen-mediated, from the gas pump to the classroom to the clinic. Bowles convincingly argues that comfort with human contact, though "not exactly like organic food or a Birkin bag," is already becoming a significant class marker. Because it's Bowles, this is an absolute pleasure to read, and there's something we can't shake about her framing story of one lonely man and his virtual cat, an avatar operated by remote overseas workers watching through the camera. Almost beat for beat, it reads like some great lost thing from Ray Bradbury. What's the German word for when you realize the low key speculative sci-fi you love is now just low key reported fact in the Times?
Mr. Wang knows how attached patients become to the avatars, and he said he has stopped health groups that want to roll out large pilots without a clear plan, since it is very painful to take away the avatars once they are given. But he does not try to limit the emotional connection between patient and avatar.
“If they say, 'I love you,' we'll say it back," he said. "With some of our clients, we'll say it first if we know they like hearing it."
Speaking of speculative fiction oozing into reported fact, here's some good headlines for the title sequence of the disaster movie: "Climate change has already started disrupting life in the Great Lakes region - and it's only going to get worse", "Great Lakes are rapidly warming, likely to trigger more flooding and extreme weather". Take a read of the study those headlines are shouting about – if anything, they're downplaying it. We passed from “will” into “is” a ways back down the road.
On that theme: in a beautiful, unsettling essay over at The Believer, dear BS friend Josephine Rowe considers the already lived effects of climate change in Australia through the lens of On The Beach, the greatest of nuclear disaster movies and the book that spawned it. And at The Sydney Review of Books, Delia Falconer ponders similar, cataloguing the signs we can already augur of the change we’re going through, and the horror and wonder and weirdness they portend.
And then of course there’s the great Barry Lopez, whose new book Horizon is out this week, which you should absolutely buy and read because nobody writes so magically and hopefully of our doomed species and our planet better than he. Here’s an excerpt at LitHub, a quiet, reverent, very Arctic drift through science and humanity and the sound of soil falling into a plastic bin in an ancient terrain.
Writing won’t bring us any closer to the shore, but it can keep us afloat, according to Lauren Berlant. ‘“We make a pass at a swell in realism, and look for the hook. We back up at the hint of something. We butt in. We try to describe the smell; we trim the fat to pinpoint what seems to be the matter here.”’ Buckslip harbours no illusions of shore, preferring to focus on floating, and the faint feeling of others floating nearby.
Mood: I Rode an E-Scooter as Far From Civilization as Its Batteries Could Take Me
While everybody’s been kvetching about Facebook and YouTube, Instagram has been quietly going about the business of enabling radicalization and hatemongering, without getting anywhere near the same attention. We should probably get on that.
This is a pretty good explainer from the NYT on the underlying psychology of group toxicity in online communities, pointing to some interesting actual studies on how even the most anodyne of discussion spaces can quickly poison themselves given the right conditions. This piece is responding, of course, to New Zealand but it understands that this isn’t something the tech invented, just an acceleration of a truth that’s been with us since we crawled out of the soup: “few things tighten the bonds of community — or make the weak feel powerful — like attacking an apparent outsider.”
Regular readers will know how much we hate so much of the current discourse around the podcast business, but if we’re going to hold our noses and accept it’s happening (and, fine, reader, we are), this Vulture piece is a pretty good overview of the crossroads the industry finds itself at now that the capitalists are here. Which is to say, a lot of dudes talking and not a lot of art.
Of course, our favourite social network is this one, your inbox. The Times just noticed our quiet little republic (again, a lot of dudes talking…), so we should probably get ready for our big VC investment, yeah?
If ever there was a startup in need of some Ritalin…. did Medium pivot back to partner publications after shutting all that down and impatiently dragging The Awl and others down with them? If nothing else, we appreciate the chutzpah of the "didn't you guys try this before?" section of their FAQ.
Didn’t we just predict this a couple of weeks back? Warner signed an algorithm to a major label deal. Well that’s the sexy headline, and we’re as seduced by it as everyone else, but really, generative music in recorded form has been around since Brian Eno first got stuck in an airport, and there have been apps since there have been apps. We’re not exactly sure what the story is here, but if the algorithm wants to invite us backstage to tear into its rider, we’re sure we can be convinced. Over at Mother Jones, Clive Thompson has a more interesting look at the future of songwriting algorithms in the music biz, particularly in the world of background and beats, where the neural nets are just begging for a slice of the licensing pie: “Background tracks are pretty algorithmic even when humans write them: You introduce one motif, then another, layer them together, rinse, and repeat. It’s...’functional’ music. ‘We don’t necessarily care how it was created and where it came from.’”
Can we all just hang out with Samin Nosrat? In Bon Appétit, Amanda Shapiro writes a wonderful profile of “literally the only brown person ever who’s been given the privilege of talking about general cooking.”