063: In the navel of the moon


Verbatim

Gosh there’s so much TV out there. For the past 5 years now it feels like we’ve been trying to swim back to the shore of … —the content equivalent of “inbox 0”—but the land is fading into the distance. Oh well. Y’all been watching ____ ? Good right?

“Overall, the total series output on television since 2002 has grown by 168 percent,” Variety reported. By way of comparison, America’s population is up about 13 percent in the same time. The number of hours in the day has remained static, at 24.


Things

“Sex is not a sandwich,” Amia Srinivasan argues in the LRB. Does anyone have the right to sex?” is a sprawling, ambitious interrogation of the limitless and tough-to-grok forms sex and desire can take in the age of both Reddit and intersectionality. There’s a lot going on here, too much for a pithy take—it’s not all easy reading, particularly the violent extremes of the “incels” that open the essay, but Srinivasan is a smart and actually funny guide on a journey through deeply unsteady terrain. “Desire can take us by surprise, leading us somewhere we hadn’t imagined we would ever go, or towards someone we never thought we would lust after, or love. In the very best cases, the cases that perhaps ground our best hope, desire can cut against what politics has chosen for us, and choose for itself.”

Who doesn’t love a good map? This one translates the world’s country names into their literal meanings. Once you’re done reading, come and meet us in the navel of the moon.

“It’s the people who make the map who shape what shows up.” That’s a truism as old as cartography,  and in a week where National Geographic fessed up to the racism inexorably entwined in its own storied past, it’s a good time to also recognise that bias is far from consigned to the past.  For CityLab, Sarah Holder surveys the inherent gender inequity behind the digital mapping projects that fuel our mobile lives, and the women working to change that (and of course the comments section is a delightful, toxic swamp full of furious men).

Meantime, over at CityLab parent The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal looks at how the traffic dodging features of our favourite nav apps are slowly breaking city planning. With mass adoption and automation fuelled by the same algorithms, the “perfect selfishness” of these apps may have brought them to the limits of their own usefulness. To think, our children may never know the pleasure of Waze liberating them from choked LA freeways, ducking and weaving down the ramps like they found the cheat code from Doom that let you run through the walls. Oh, how we lived.

We didn’t pay much attention to Jordan Peterson when he began misinterpreting Canadian Bill C-16 in a ploy for media attention. But his trick worked—as an international best-seller his pivot from academic obscurity into the booming pseudo-intellectual/self-help guru industry is now complete. And now he’s in over his head, no longer accountable to his academic institution and peers, but to the mob that has taken him up as their messiah, which he must now serve lest they turn against him. So let’s take another quick, harrowing look, recategorize him from “local ranter” to “grandiose obscurantist,” and set him aside for good.

When it comes to digital platforms, industry titans would have us believe that only they can understand the full complexity of their privacy implications, and must therefore take on the responsibility of self-regulation. But the only hard limits encountered so far have been technological viability and—very rarely—public outrage. The only self-regulation practiced is not around user data, but the control of the platforms’ own agents and partners, who might otherwise describe them as labs for grossly unethical experiments.” The EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) show that it is possible for government to regulate an industry it has not fully mastered itself, just as it does in the pharmaceutical industry or, for that matter, consumer electronics. The industry’s smokescreen of complexity and innovation is dispersing.

“Newscycle is the very first cycling class focused on completely exhausting you mentally and physically.”

(And while we’re linking to McSweeney’s funnies with a gym theme, let’s gratuitously call back to our very own Eli’s fine, fine listicle on the 5 reasons treadmill desks are the next big thing.)

Here’s your soundtrack for the week—an absolutely gorgeous, joyous new album from Ethiopian keyboard great Hailu Mergia. The album, his first in two decades, was largely composed on the battery-powered keyboard he keeps stashed in the trunk of his Washington DC taxi, sneaking jams in his downtime between trips to the airport.


Did you like all the map talk in this week’s letter? Do you have friends who like this much map talk? Tell them how to find us! Maybe there’s a chance we even talk about maps again one day.