046: Podcast-ready purgatory


This week, “imagine Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe combined into one sensitive, oblique poet-philosopher, and you’re getting close.” Odin, the fire-fighting dog. George Double-Ya, the voice of reason. At least three heroes. Otherwise, a villain’s weird phone call. Catalonia in purgatory. Bombings in Mogadishu. And 3D bridge-printing in the Netherlands. Here’s hoping you too enjoyed a comfortable International Fisting Day (✊).


We’re always pretty happy to read Jedediah Purdy on how we comprehend and politicise nature. In Thinking Like a Mountain”, for n+1, he surveys what nature writing might mean “in the age of slow, irreversible change” where if we’re not careful, our desires to project our own morality end economies onto the wild world will condemn us to a David Brooks-tinged podcast-ready purgatory. (He does, we should also say, explore the work of three great writers who escape this trap to various degrees.)

Measured as proof of consciousness and culture outside our own, these are not far from fairy tales. But from evolutionary psychology to behavioral economics to Wohlleben’s petit bourgeois panpsychism, speculative science is the parlor-game social theory and metaphysics of the age — and of the civilization. Many years after the heyday of social Darwinism and phrenology, you can still find an audience for an insight about how some bit of selfishness was adaptive on the savannah, or how a self-defeating quirk is part of a pattern that makes humans “predictably irrational.” Or you can give a TED Talk on how nature is like the internet, which is like consciousness, so we are not alone.

ThingsOrdinarily we’d spare you overly broad “future of work” pieces, but this one from Nature is worth a read – it presents some of the many open research questions in the field, not searching for answers so much as checking in with what various ongoing studies are uncovering as they look into them, without too much hype or fearmongering. Though it does, we admit, have a graph titled “Delaying the Robot Uprising.”

As Lucy Kellaway wrote at FT a few months back before she went off to become a maths teacher, “when the style is all hype, the language needs to match.” That isn’t just advice for press releases, and keynote presentations, but the seed of modern post-profit private-valuation strategy.

We’ve previously expressed hope that the worm had turned against such deceitful practices from the big four consumer tech companies, as they “disrupt” the expectation of corporate responsibility. Now we’re not so sure, as we watch cities (including our own) tripping over themselves to welcome Amazon’s “HQ2” or hand over the city keys to Google’s “smart city” projects. Beyond the veneer, these are development projects like any other—their vision boards and artist renderings should regarded with the same suspicion, and met with the same process, as any corporate campus, economic development zone, or shopping mall town square.

Would it surprise you to learn that Casper is just one of over 100 disruptive mattress companies out there? That they’ve not only managed to rise away above the rest, but they’ve managed to drown out even the tiniest suggestion of a peep from the competition? Would it also surprise you to learn that the most prolific and trafficked mattress review sites live in fear of Casper? A big bad wolf does not sleep peacefully alongside three little pigs after all

(On that, is anybody working on the inevitable expose that shows all these mattresses are just made in the same factory anyway? Go on, pull that loose mattress thread for us would ya?)

Jean-Louis Gassée points out the not unobvious fact that Elon Musk knowing how to get attention doesn’t mean he knows how to run an assembly line.

We could explain what this is, but you're better off floating straight into it. (We recommend you hit "accelerate.")

A short ol' week here it seems. Probably it's that nothing really happened in the world? Yeah. That'd be it.

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