Author Archives

Bradley Babendir
Bradley Babendir is a fiction writer and critic. . His work has been published by The Washington Post, The Nation, The New Republic, and elsewhere. He lives in Boston.

Not Quite Democracy: Lucie Greene on the Civic Aspirations of Tech Giants

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Bradley Babendir | Longreads | September 2018 | 12 minutes (3,248 words)

 

At this point it seems self-evident that as the major technology companies like Facebook, Uber and Google continue to grow, they are gaining more influence over public life, while the ability of regular consumers or even governments to push back is diminishing. In Silicon States: The Power and Politics of Big Tech and What It Means for Our Future, a new book by Lucie Greene, the past and future consequences of this rapid change are laid out, and there’s plenty of bad news, from the decline of journalism to the rise of gender inequality, from endangered democracy at home to the new “tech imperialism” abroad.

Greene is a futurist for the in-house think tank at J. Walter Thompson, a historic advertising agency that is now a marketing communications company and a subsidiary of a multinational conglomerate, which has large and likewise historic accounts such as Unilever, Kraft, Nestlé and Kellog’s. Her professional focus is, as she put it, “connecting emerging cultural change in consumer sentiment to brand strategy” — that is, concerned more with stock futures than science fiction ones, and not typically the vantage point of someone you would expect to become a Cassandra warning against the deleterious effects of an entire industry on our civic life. Indeed, one could argue that throughout the 20th century and up to the present day, some of her company’s clients, or similar large multinantionals, have engaged in a great deal of political manipulation. But her argument — that the tenor of the tech companies’ rhetoric and goals are different, somehow more all-encompassing — is a compelling one. The book is a bracing read, and arguably her expertise makes her well-suited to write insightfully about the biggest brands with the most consumers.

Silicon States is a book fundamentally about the danger of concentrating so much power in so few hands. We spoke by phone about the people who have amassed huge amounts of wealth, the companies they run, what they’re doing with their money, and why they’re doing it. Read more…

Storytelling the Flood: Elizabeth Rush on Empathy and Climate Change

Allard Schager/Getty, collage by Katie Kosma

Bradley Babendir | Longreads | June 2018 | 16 minutes (4,357 words)

In Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore (Milkweed Editions), Elizabeth Rush visits people and communities made immediately vulnerable by the rising sea levels that are brought on by climate change. She interviews people who have lost their homes, their loved ones, and the world they once knew to flooding and other disasters. Some just want to be able to afford to leave, while others are willing to withstand everything to stay.

Rush pushes through the rhetoric around climate change to look closely at the consequences. Not the ones that will happen at some point down the road, but the ones that are happening now. She travels from Louisiana to Florida to California and elsewhere to see and try her best to understand what it is like to lose the ground beneath your feet.

We talked by phone about what led her to this book, what carried her through this book, and what comes next for her and her subjects. Read more…