‘Your Feeling of Autonomy Is a Fantasy’

A remarkable inside look at the hope, desperation, and financial realities for startups and founders working in San Francisco and Silicon Valley:

All the while, Martino’s ultimate warning—that they might someday regret actually getting the money they wanted—would still hang over these two young men, inherent to a system designed to turn strivers into subcontractors. Instead of what you want to build—the consumer-facing, world-remaking thing—almost invariably you are pushed to build a small piece of technology that somebody with a lot of money wants built cheaply. As the engineer and writer Alex Payne put it, these startups represent “the field offices of a large distributed workforce assembled by venture capitalists and their associate institutions,” doing low-overhead, low-risk R&D for five corporate giants. In such a system, the real disillusionment isn’t the discovery that you’re unlikely to become a billionaire; it’s the realization that your feeling of autonomy is a fantasy, and that the vast majority of you have been set up to fail by design.

Source: Wired
Published: Apr 23, 2014
Length: 42 minutes (10,559 words)

Sleeping Together

A visit to “Tokyo’s first co-sleeping café” where clients pay to sleep next to women or pay for “options” like being patted on the head:

“Did he get any of the options?’

“‘He wanted five-second hug option.’

“‘How much does that cost?’

“‘Sen yen.’ A thousand yen.

“‘What was it like?’

“She mimed wrapping her arms around a thorn tree. She wincingly patted the thorny emptiness.”

Published: Aug 26, 2013
Length: 11 minutes (2,769 words)

In Search of the Living, Purring, Singing Heart of the Online Cat-Industrial Complex

Why are cats so big on the Internet? A writer goes to Japan, “where the Internet-feline market began,” to find out:

“Marx and I watch a few new cat videos, some of the up-and-comers, those challenging or exceeding Maru’s pageviews. ‘An interesting thing, here in Japan, is that it’s not just the cat partners who post cat stuff. It’s everybody.’ Soezimax, for example, is an action-film maker, one of the most popular partners in Japan, with millions of views. But some of his most popular videos are the ones he posts of the fights he has with his girlfriend’s vicious cat, Sashimi-san, who regularly puts Soezimax to rout. He’s the anti-Maru, the standard-bearer of uncute Internet cat aggression. The videos are slightly alarming, especially when we’re all so used to anodyne felinity. Then Marx brings up Japan’s most popular Internet comedian, who used to post regular videos of himself in a cat café. (In Japan, they have cafés where you go to pet cats.)

“‘It’s like,’ Marx says, ‘no matter how successful you are here on the Internet on your own terms, it’s de rigueur that you still have to do something with a cat.’ In a culture of Internet anonymity, bred of island claustrophobia and immobility, the Japanese Internet cat has become a crucial proxy: People who feel inhibited to do what they want online are expressing themselves, cagily, via the animal that only ever does what it wants.”

Source: Wired
Published: Aug 31, 2012
Length: 25 minutes (6,493 words)