Subscribe to The Atlantic and get 2 free issues

My Day as a Robot

The reporter spends a day as a telepresent robot:

When I hit a clearing, a friendly young woman comes up to me, introduces herself as Leila, and asks where I am. I am very briefly confused by the question: We’re in Toronto, of course! But when I catch her drift and admit I am actually in New York, she doesn’t seem to hear me. Before long, it becomes clear that the volume on the People’s Bot just doesn’t go loud enough to carry my voice in this noisy hallway. To hear what I’m saying, Leila has to put her face right up against mine. This seems to work, and after a bit of basic back and forth, I ask her what it feels like to be talking to me. “Do I seem like a human or a robot to you?” Leila thinks this over, and after a moment, says something thrilling: “It’s like a hybrid of both. Like a cyborg!”

PUBLISHED: May 11, 2014
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3450 words)

The Tor Project

As domestic abuse goes digital, shelters turn to counter-surveillance with Tor:

Sarah’s abuser gained access to every password she had. He monitored her bank accounts and used her phone to track her location and read her conversations. She endured four years of regular physical and emotional trauma enabled by meticulous digital surveillance and the existing support services, from shelters to police, were almost powerless to help her.

“We wish we could just stop the clock because we need to catch up,” said Risa Mednick, director of the Cambridge domestic violence prevention organization Transition House.

To fight back, Transition House and others turn to the same methods used by intelligence agencies in order to keep their clients safe.

PUBLISHED: May 7, 2014
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6383 words)

For Richard Family, Loss and Love

A family forever changed by the Boston Marathon bombings, one year later:

Bill, still in pain from an unsuccessful operation to repair his ruptured eardrums, continued to struggle making restaurant reservations for four and found himself instinctively grabbing five plates for dinner, having to put one back.

After a while, they were happy to see neighbors, but it wasn’t always comfortable. Some weren’t sure what to say to the Richards and felt strange talking about themselves, at times apologizing for carping about things that seemed so trivial by comparison, like a backache.

But Bill and Denise were buoyed by a steady flow of good will.

AUTHOR:David Abel
PUBLISHED: April 13, 2014
LENGTH: 54 minutes (13683 words)

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Our favorite stories of the week, featuring Mother Jones, Fast Company, The Georgia Review, Pacific Standard, and The Boston Globe.
PUBLISHED: March 21, 2014

Putin's Long-Term Strategy: The Eurasian Union

Neyfakh explores Vladimir Putin’s pursuit of a Eurasian Union, and the roots of Eurasianism:

Putin famously once said the breakup of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” and has also reportedly promised that the Eurasian Union would be based on the “best values of the Soviet Union.” But to say the project is simply an effort to reassemble the USSR is crude and incorrect, say Russia analysts. Instead, Putin’s efforts should be seen as a realization of an entirely different, and much less familiar idea called Eurasianism—a philosophy that has roots in the 1920s, and which grew out of Russia’s longstanding identity crisis about whether or not it should strive to be a part of Europe.

PUBLISHED: March 19, 2014
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2311 words)

The Botmaker Who Sees Through the Internet

A profile of Darius Kazemi, who is turning Twitter bots into an art form: He’s created dozens of automated programs whose purposes can run the gamut from cultural commentary to complete nonsense:

Kazemi is part of a small but vibrant group of programmers who, in addition to making clever Web toys, have dedicated themselves to shining a spotlight on the algorithms and data streams that are nowadays humming all around us, and using them to mount a sharp social critique of how people use the Internet—and how the Internet uses them back.

PUBLISHED: Jan. 28, 2014
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2258 words)

Longreads Best of 2013: The Best Sentence I Read This Year

Catherine Cloutier is an online producer at The Boston Globe’s
PUBLISHED: Dec. 5, 2013

Why Russia's Drinkers Resist AA

Alcoholism remains a national epidemic in Russia, but a treatment program like Alcoholics Anonymous has failed to take hold in the country. Leon Neyfakh explores why:

A further obstacle to AA’s growth in Russia is something more philosophical: At a basic level, its premise of sobriety through mutual support just doesn’t make sense to a lot of Russians. In the past, this has taken the form of anti-Western suspicion—“What are the Americans trying to get out of this?” is a question Moseeva used to hear regularly. But more fundamentally, the group-therapy dynamic collides with a skepticism about the possibility of ordinary people curing each other of anything. “The idea that another drunk can help you is asinine to most Russians,” said Alexandre Laudet, a social psychologist who has researched Russian alcoholism.

PUBLISHED: Nov. 4, 2013
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2526 words)

Walter Willett's Food Fight

Harvard professor Walter Willett is one of the most influential nutritionists in the world whose studies tracking hundred of thousands of health professionals have resulted in data shaping what we eat and how it affects our health:

"He’s tasting an almond-and-grape gazpacho when someone brings over a woman named Cindy Goody and, by way of introduction, says, 'Walter, she’s trying to do good work at McDonald’s.'

"He phrases his greeting in the form of a question, 'Why can’t you make a good veggie burger?'

"Goody, the senior director of nutrition for the 14,000 US outlets, appears taken aback. 'We tried it,' she says tentatively.

"'Aw, that was a setup!' Willett complains, waving his hand. He tasted one many years ago in an airport McDonald’s, and it was so awful he couldn’t finish it. 'I’m convinced you guys made it bad to turn off people from veggie burgers.'"
PUBLISHED: July 28, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4420 words)