We totally forgot to post Anna Wiener’s New Yorker piece “Four Years in Startups” when it came out a few weeks back, which is ridiculous, because it’s really, really good. Wiener’s perspective on the last half-decade or so in tech, and how things turned as toxic as they did, is from the steerage class, well beneath the big CEO visions, where one can carve out a quiet career despite a reticence that’s gently and imperceptibly displaced by salary increases and benefits as the water around you slowly comes to a boil. We’re also just really interested in what’s going on in this piece on a craft level — her decision to not name a single brand or company, or almost any person, unsettles it into a strangely disconnected, historical point of view that gives it a power we can’t quite put our finger on.
Apoorva Tadepalli’s “Treat Yourself” is the perfect complement to Wiener’s piece. She too seems to have just awoken from a dream—her clarity hasn’t yet been blurred by nostalgia or overworked through multiple retellings. Start-up culture has come to a boil, and even the revolt now feels too much like a product of that world and needs to be reworked : “The language of self-care and the language of burnout may seem to be opposites, but often they can be complementary: the tendency to externalize our suffering to our economic and sociocultural circumstances provokes the counter-tendency to “take better care” of ourselves after being beaten down by those circumstances. Tossed from ideology to lifestyle statement, both stories threaten to turn us into passive victims, with little ability to interpret for ourselves what constitutes an action of worth, or to act accordingly.”
Valley dreaming doesn’t get more hubristic than Elizabeth Pierce’s “Shackleton-esque” quest to lay fibre through the Northwest Passage (we would have gone with a more appropriate Franklin-esque, but still). In this excellent Businessweek report, Austin Carr excavates a wild and frosty story of fraud and, as ever, exploitation of northern communities stuck with the underperforming results of big infrastructural promises.
Here’s that epic Ben Mauk Believer project we mentioned recently, from their really well executed “Borders” issue — a series of intimate and harrowing interviews that create an oral portrait of life in contemporary Xinjiang.
One man brought a tattered red-and-gold Chinese registration book belonging to his dead father, who peered out from beneath an imposing fur hat in the identifying photograph. Another man brought his two sons. A woman arrived with the names of her fourteen missing grandchildren. Some brought records of births and marriages, deeds, letters, family snapshots, petitions, or copies of UN conventions. Others were empty-handed.
“Whether we find ourselves amidst the vast terrain of the commercial internet; in our libraries, archives and museums; or between the parks, public housing facilities and utility infrastructures of our cities, thinking beyond growth as an end in itself requires attending to maintenance and care: who deserves it, who performs it, and to what end.” Shannon Mattern on degrowth, maintenance, and architectural and urbanism praxis beyond climate change.
“And yet, what would have happened if we’d left orchids where they were? What would have happened if we’d left countries as they were, people as they were?” In the latest in her occasional series “The Ugly History of Beautiful Things” at Longreads, Katy Kelleher goes deep on orchids.
Big moves afoot in the internet chum world! Taboola and Outbrain are merging into one wretched monolith (or really, Taboola’s buying Outbrain and calling it a merger). Soon enough there’ll be an IPO. Will that be the point where the hollow core of that whole wretched scam is exposed à la WeWork and we’re finally spared the hideous content they spew forth? Or will it just get worse, given the sweet, sweet revenue stream it continues to offer up to otherwise vaguely sane publishers? This one gut doctor in Maine has the answer that may change your life.
Simon Reynolds was always one of the smartest and most-worth-reading of that last great generation of British music critics. His desire to plant flags in coined genres doesn’t always work (hey, post-rock stuck around at least), but this long Pitchfork piece on the migration of electronic music from clubs into museums and the academy over the last decade — “conceptronica”, he’s going with — serves as a fascinating, curious history of the recent cultural shifts and politicisations of the dance floor, understood within the broader historical narratives of house music, post punk, rave, gabba, trap, and so on and so forth.
Everyone’s wondering where the next recession will come from. Of course we’re wary of VCs pumping and dumping volatile start-up investments on the public through IPOs and pension funds. But student debt may be the next mortgage crisis. “Reskilling” certificate programs are multiplying and tuition at traditional institutions are skyrocketing, so student debt is increasingly ubiquitous. And banks can’t repossess the knowledge, experience, or connections gained as a student. At least some students are finally getting paid.
Patricia Lockwood affectionately eviscerating the collected works of John Updike in the LRB is every bit as pleasurable a read as you’d hope it would be.
As is Brian Phillips, writing long in The Ringer on the life of God, or Diego Maradona as he is otherwise known.