The Case Against Civilization

Hunter-gatherers seems so primitive to modern human beings, especially as we read about them on our smart phones while waiting for the subway and eating a microwaved breakfast sandwich. But what if agriculture gave us more problems than progress?

Source: The New Yorker
Published: Sep 18, 2017
Length: 15 minutes (3,953 words)

You Are the Product

Facebook is really in the surveillance business, and it uses our data to market us stuff. Mark Zuckerberg wants to make sure you don’t know this, because if you did, why would you still use Facebook?

Published: Aug 17, 2017
Length: 35 minutes (8,943 words)

The Robots Are Coming

Lanchester takes us through the possibility of a robotified future that completely changes our economic landscape.

Published: Mar 5, 2015
Length: 24 minutes (6,135 words)

Marx at 193

What he got right—and wrong—about capitalism:

“The most obvious mistake in his version of the world is to do with class. There is something like a classic Marxian proletariat dispersed through the world. But Marx foresaw that this proletariat would be an increasingly centralised and organised force: indeed, this was one of the reasons it would prove so dangerous to capitalism. By creating the conditions in which labour would be sure to organise and assemble collectively capitalism was arranging its own downfall. But there is no organised global conflict between the classes; there is no organised global proletariat. There’s nothing even close. The proletariat is queuing to get into Foxconn, not to organise strikes there, and the great danger facing China, which is in a sense where the world’s proletariat now is, is the inequality caused by fractures within the new urban proletariat and the rural poverty they’re leaving behind.”

Published: Mar 29, 2012
Length: 23 minutes (5,870 words)

The Non-Scenic Route to the Place We’re Going Anyway

Instead of the surge of rebounding growth which historically accompanies successful exit from a recession, we have the UK’s disappointing 0.2 per cent growth, the US’s anaemic 0.3 per cent and the glum eurozone average figure of 0.2 per cent. That number includes the surprising and alarming German 0.1 per cent, the desperately poor French 0 per cent and then, wait for it, the agreeably frisky Belgian 0.7 per cent. Why is that, if you’ve been following the story, laugh-aloud funny? Because Belgium doesn’t have a government. Thanks to political stalemate in Brussels, it hasn’t had one for 15 months. No government means none of the stuff all the other governments are doing: no cuts and no ‘austerity’ packages. In the absence of anyone with a mandate to slash and burn, Belgian public sector spending is puttering along much as it always was; hence the continuing growth of their economy. It turns out that from the economic point of view, in the current crisis, no government is better than any government – any existing government.

Published: Sep 1, 2011
Length: 12 minutes (3,055 words)

Bravo l’artiste

If we follow the logic of Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, we could say that Rupert Murdoch is not so much a man, or a cultural force, as a portrait of the modern world. He is the way we live now; he is the media magnate we deserve. It is almost impossible to say a single conclusive, summing-up thing about him.

Published: Feb 1, 2004
Length: 23 minutes (5,895 words)

Incredible Edibles: The Mad Genius of ‘Modernist Cuisine’

The most instructive dish, however, was one of the failures, a slow-and-low chicken, cooked for several hours and served when its internal temperature had hit 149 degrees Fahrenheit. The problem was that, with all its juices still inside, it tasted far too chickeny. If you oven-roast chicken the regular way, you get used to the drying effect of the heat, and to the fact that some juices go into the pan and are recycled as gravy. With this version, the bird was so moist that its texture was almost jellied, the flesh was a faint pink, and the chicken-explosion of flavor was overwhelming. In a sense, it was too good. My roast-chicken-obsessed children threw down their cutlery in protest after a single mouthful.

Source: The New Yorker
Published: Mar 17, 2011
Length: 15 minutes (3,952 words)

Let Us Pay: On the Future of the Newspaper Industry

I feel equally certain in saying that what the print media need, more than anything else, is a new payment mechanism for online reading, which lets you read anything you like, wherever it is published, and then charges you on an aggregated basis, either monthly or yearly or whatever. For many people, this would be integrated into an RSS feed, to create what amounts to an individualised newspaper.

Published: Dec 16, 2010
Length: 23 minutes (5,896 words)