Tag Archives: google

Bruce Sterling’s ‘The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things’

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This long essay from probably the most acutely insightful futurists of maybe even a couple of generations is completely a steal at $4. Get it on Amazon, like, fucking yesterday.

So the Internet of Things is not a coup d’état, it’s not Orwellian totalitarianism at work. However, it’s definitely about power, and also wealth and fame. Making your refrigerator talk to your toaster is a senseless trick that any competent hacker can achieve today for twenty bucks. It is trivial, but the Internet of Things is epic. It will entail a struggle — not for the Internet of Things, or against it — but inside, as it both grows and fails.

The Temptations of Big Brother: ‘The Circle’, by Dave Eggers

The CircleThe Circle by Dave Eggers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a lot being said about Dave Eggers’ latest novel, including a fair amount of criticism about it’s flawed posturing as a kind of parable meant to terrify and jostle the reader out of social media complacency — essentially, that is, an Orwellian caution story for the time of millenials, Big Brother taking selfies.

Much of the criticism seems justified to me; as a story The Circle hits a few flat notes, with almost cartoonishly one-dimensional characters that too often show their hand as being Authorial Megaphones, Eggers almost stridently breaking the writerly cliche to show and not tell. The would-be moral lesson of The Circle would’ve come across just as well and perhaps with even greater weight if emboldened with nuance and complexity, chiefly with its cast of characters. Mae, our young female protagonist is the biggest disappointment here, a small-town girl a bit too easily swept away by the glamorous machinations of The Circle, a social media behemoth stand-in that isn’t so much symbolic of Facebook and Google as a future epitome of all social media efforts. While much of her near frictionless evolution into the poster child of The Circle’s grandest project–a person going entirely ‘transparent’, everything from their vital signs to every moment of their day-to-day activities freely recorded and broadcast–can be attributed to her youthful idealism and appreciation of a remarkable career and lifestyle opportunity, one can’t help but feel there could’ve been a great deal more to the story had she had more empathy with her parents and ex-boyfriend, Mercer, who sit on the other, skeptical side of The Circle’s efforts.

That all said, the story remains fairly compelling and the book is a satisfying read on the whole. It also demands consideration for what it does almost too well: it makes Big Brother look, well, rather wonderful. While many critics have categorized the book as a relatively simple and even heavy-handed warning against the increasing erosion of privacy in the name of digital connectedness that most seems to revolve around narcissism, I really found it to be far more than that. Eggers, to my mind, has gone to great and convincing lengths to capture the temptations of The Circle’s efforts. In a series of ‘lessons’ of a sort from one of The Circle’s ‘Three Wisemen’ leaders, Mae is told of all the ways society and individuals would lead improved lives through complete transparency, the codeword throughout the book for complete surveillance. Children, given tracking chips at birth, nearly eradicate all kidnappings. Complete transparency among adults will nearly eliminate all crime, Bentham’s Panopticon with unlimited technology and funding. A collective of medical data on all people on Earth leading to unprecedented advances in detection and cure rates. A disabled child in California can tune in as a dozen different advanced cameras track a climber advancing up Everest. It continues on and on like this, resonating most effectively in the realm of government, where the trend for politicians to ‘go transparent’ quickly becomes an overwhelming one and leads to the first truly transparent democracy the world has ever seen, corruption and lobbying disappearing seemingly overnight.

The idealistic hopes play out in the book rather frequently and easily — more criticism is justified here, too, but the effect remains, and is I believe the real brilliance of this book. Eggers isn’t just scaring us all into maybe backing off of Facebook for a while, or caring a bit more about just how much time and money Google is spending to know who we are by trawling every email. He’s playing devil’s advocate for his own warning, arguing emphatically in return that increased digital visibility will have potential positive effects on a global scale, and surely will have many convincing proponents for pushing for those advances.

Philosophically, The Circle isn’t as singleminded as it might at first appear. It isn’t only a cautionary tale from a social media luddite, condemning the age of digital access and monitoring with a heavy hand. It’s richer and more daunting to consider to the full weight of what closing The Circle would mean, and considering why it might, to more than a few, not appear like such a scary story. Eggers leaves it to the reader to feel out these possible futures, and wonder if we can take some of the progress on offer from some of them without the requisite totalitarianism. Here the line between dystopia and utopia is paper thin, and all the more frightening because of it.

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Misc. Reviews

Scarface — 5

Full Metal Jacket — 5

A Few Good Men — 3

The Wire (Season 1) — 4

The Wire (Season 2) — 4

The Wire (Season 3) — 5

Blue Jasmine — 5

5 Centimeters Per Second — 5

Google Talks: Salman Rushdie — 3

Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2013: David Simon, ‘Some People Are More Equal Than Others’ — 5

FODI 2013: Lawrence Krauss & Peter Rollins, ‘New Atheism vs. New Religion’ — 4

FODI 2013: Panel, ‘Death Gone Wrong’ — 3

‘this emotion was a little e-book’, Tao Lin — 4

Some more catching up on some movie classics I had somehow managed to miss until now. I definitely get what the big deal is about Scarface.

The Wire is a series I’ve been hearing about for years but hadn’t gotten around to yet, which is particularly shameful considering how much I’ve followed and admired creator David Simon’s various writings and public talks. The show really does live up to the hype, and is without a doubt some of the best criticism of the continued War on Drugs, for which the label ‘failed’ is an understatement of abysmal proportions. The characters and writing are brilliant, as is the overall pace and production. I actually surrendered all forms of self control and dignity a few days ago and marathoned the entirety of season 3 in a single day; it really is that good, the epitome of ‘just one more’ addiction. David Simon’s background as a journalist comes through very strong, and is the mechanism driving all the gritty and realistic minutiae that make the show truly singular.

Blue Jasmine was absolutely fantastic, the best Woody Allen in a long while and by far his best cast that I can remember. Cate Blanchett rightfully gets the lion’s share of praise for a perfectly affected portrayal of a genuine nervous breakdown of life-crumbling proportions. Baldwin and Louis CK are very enjoyable and the presence of Sally Hawkins (who I fell completely in love with in Happy-Go-Lucky) pushes the entire film over the top for me in the best ways possible.

5 Centimeters Per Second is easily the best animated film I’ve seen in years, visually pristine and aesthetically wealthy in all the ways needed to carry through to make what would in most hands a bland and cliche trio of vignettes.

I’d never quite say Salman Rushdie is disappointing as a speaker or reader, but he really does just..lose something, when off the page. The writing of his I know (not enough) is the real deal, he studies everything with a writer’s mind and imagination that is childlike yet with the matured patina of someone who has been the target of and answer to some of the most visceral anger and violence on offer in the modern world. His talk at Google about his memoir (that I loved) was all right but nothing terribly interesting to anyone who has read the book or even been enough a follower of his life to want to.

Been slowly working through all of the YouTube recordings of this past year’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas, which is always worth anyone’s time and always offers a genuinely complex range of topics. David Simon’s dark and only slightly hopeful critique of the lack of any social contract at all between America’s capitalistic balloonings of wealth and its people as a whole (i.e., the 99% vs. 1% dynamic) is thorough and emotional and uncomfortable, and I’m afraid that he’s almost certainly right in saying that, on the whole, it’s all going to get much worse before it gets better, and the turning point will be some kind of very real revolt, something along the lines of the Arab Spring meets Occupy Wall Street.

The ‘New Atheism vs. New Religion’ debate/discussion was all right but a bit flat. Lawrence Krauss is a fine speaker and getting better all the time, and represented himself well and did right by, I think, most anyone who could be called part of the ‘movement’. I had never seen Peter Rollins speak before and I get why he’s so popular — young, very charismatic, with a perfect sense for cadence and performance. Sadly, while markedly more enjoyable to listen to than Deepak Chopra, his pseudo-intellectual ramblings are equally hollow. Like Chopra he’s borrowed just enough jargon to weave together some admirable rhetorical stunt-pilotry that goes precisely nowhere — there’s just no there, there. His severely watered-down take on theology makes it so palatable even secularists might find it interesting, but it’s like popcorn, mostly air and quickly unsatisfying past his verbal theatrics.