It was a lovely day, more summer than spring; the flowering trees poked out the buds - you know, the commas in the run-on sentence - a few more millimeters today. The grass still looks like it’s recovering from a brutal beating, though - stunned, unable to get up. Soon I’ll be seeding again and pouring dirt and wondering why nothing comes up. Probably because I seeded then put down dirt. Green side up!
That was the punchline to a Polish joke. The Swedes and Norwegians told Polish jokes where I grew up. A man was talking to a friend, and occasionally would wander to the window and shout Green side up! Eventually the friend asked what he was doing, and the man said he had a Polish lawn worker laying down sod.
I’m sure the Poles told it about the Swedes. Everybody told it about some other out-group. I tell it about myself every time I try to do some lawn work.
Even though it was a beautiful day, I went down into the tunnel. The only way to get to the government center for license tabs. There’s an opening where you can see up into the world . . .
. . . and some days there’s a fountain thundering down behind the glass, which of course is exactly how you want to see a waterfall: behind glass. This is the tunnel that connects the Government Center to City Hall, slithering in the back and leading to deserted spaces that feel like a video game setting. It’s always quiet and unpopulated in City Hall. Surely it wasn’t always so.
I was working on the novel the other night, and didn’t know where it was going. The hero was calling the Department of Inspections at City Hall, and yes I know: wow can I keep up that level of intensity. Yes. Also, I was curious what they would say at the Department, and the only way to find out was to have Anderssen, the reporter, call them. The phone kept ringing, and ringing, and I realized that the phone was ringing because I didn’t know what they would say - and then I just typed that someone picked up, said “wrong number,” and hung up.
A) if we pick up, why don't we hang down?
B) What the devil is going on in the Department of Inspections? A little strong-arm work, I figured, and left off for the evening.
The next night I realized that the main character, being a good reporter, would walk over from the newspaper building to see what had happened. As he entered City Hall I felt required to describe it, how the light pours in the stained-glass windows, the grotesques leer from the elevator doors, the big statue of the Father of Waters stars out with slight annoyance as everyone rubs his toe for luck. Suddenly my character was remembering an early trip with his father, and before I knew it I had all this backstory that added a second level to the plot - and that’s before we even got to the Department of Inspections, where a back-and-forth with a cop told me that the guy who’d been slapping around the civil servant when the phone rang wasn’t the guy I thought it was.
So who the hell is he? I DON'T KNOW.
Sometimes you have to write the book to find out what it's about. And by "sometimes" I mean "always." It's not like building bridges out of toothpicks; it's whittling down a tree to find the figure hiding inside.
This article asked many internet pioneers about how they think it’s all turned out. They’re not happy.
No one asked me, he said with a petulant sniff. I think it’s turned out well for those who regard it as a personal publishing platform, and don’t regard social media as an equivalent or replacement for the real world. It is a shadow realm full of tricksters and devils and angels and blokes and sheilas. It’s Second Life except it seems real because it contains Kardashians, who are the most important and fascinating people on earth.
Anyway, it’s mostly lamented now because A) Trump, and B) People are jerks.
Rich Kyanka: Social media was supposed to be about, “Hey, Grandma. How are you?” Now it’s like, “Oh my God, did you see what she wore yesterday? What a f**ing cow that bitch is.” Everything is toxic — and that has to do with the internet itself. It was founded to connect people all over the world. But now you can meet people all over the world and then murder them in virtual reality and rape their pets.
Everything is toxic — and that has to do with the internet itself. I don’t think so. I think it has to do with people on the internet. People who otherwise wouldn’t say boo to you as you passed on the street, but feel as if it is their duty to yell at everything on Twitter, because there are no consequences. If you got into the elevator at work every day and acted rude to everyone in the car, eventually it would have consequences. The Internet is a hellish version of an elevator car - everyone is looking and everyone else and talking at the same time about everyone else and themselves.
García: I think Silicon Valley has changed. After a while, the whole thing became more sharp-elbowed. It wasn’t hippies showing up anymore. There was a lot more of the libertarian, screw-the-government ethos, that whole idea of move fast, break things, and damn the consequences.
Er - break things, damn the consequences, screw the government is pretty much a hippie credo.
Lanier: What started out as advertising morphed into continuous behavior modification on a mass basis, with everyone under surveillance by their devices and receiving calculated stimulus to modify them. It’s a horrible thing that was foreseen by science-fiction writers. It’s straight out of Philip K. Dick or 1984. And despite all the warnings, we just walked right into it and created mass behavior-modification regimes out of our digital networks.
||There is an ad on this page, for this thing. It follows you as you scroll.
My behavior remains unmodified. I didn't want it before I saw the ad and I didn't want it after. For that matter, how has your digital network’s advertising - that’s what he’s talking about - changed your behavior? I bought a pillow the other day because I liked the ad, found the idea intriguing, and wanted the YouTuber to get some revenue. You can say I’m being completely naive about how manipulated I really was, but when I click on an ad it’s not for a stimulus to modify my behavior. It’s because I am interested in learning more about a product or service. I actually watched a new ad for a product I’d already bought because it was an interesting ad.
Purple pillow, by the way.
Guillaume Chaslot: The way AI is designed will have a huge impact on the type of content you see. For instance, if the AI favors engagement, like on Facebook and YouTube, it will incentivize divisive content, because divisive content is very efficient to keep people online. If the metric you try to optimize is likes, or the little arcs on Facebook, then the type of content people will see and share will be very different.
So we won’t see “controversial” videos demonetized, then? Good to know. By the way, I’m sure one man’s divisive content is another man’s news article. Truth can be divisive. Are we supposed to disincentivize the truth because some people think it’s divisive?
Lanier: Every time there’s some movement like Black Lives Matter or #MeToo, you have this initial period where people feel like they’re on this magic-carpet ride. Social media is letting them reach people and organize faster than ever before. They’re thinking, Wow, Facebook and Twitter are these wonderful tools of democracy. But it turns out that the same data that creates a positive, constructive process like the Arab Spring can be used to irritate other groups. So every time you have a Black Lives Matter, social media responds by empowering neo-Nazis and racists in a way that hasn’t been seen in generations. The original good intention winds up empowering its opposite.
It’s called the Marketplace of Ideas. Should we regulate a medium because Bad People criticize the Good People doing the Good Thing? I have no desire to empower neo-Nazis but the term has become rather elastic lately.
This is true:
McComas: Ultimately the problem Reddit has is the same as Twitter: By focusing on growth and growth only, and ignoring the problems, they amassed a large set of cultural norms on their platforms that stem from harassment or abuse or bad behavior. They have worked themselves into a position where they’re completely defensive and they can just never catch up on the problem. I don’t see any way it’s going to improve. The best they can do is figure out how to hide the bad behavior from the average user.
The Cultural Norms go back to the first point: it’s not the medium, it’s the people on it. The number and volume of bad people on Twitter + the freedom to be a jerk + the necessity of having a take + the rush of self-regard that comes from being a proper-thinking modern internet person creates a culture in which decorum is for cucks.
What’s good about modern debate? Well, it’s clarifying. You get to see what people who ought to be concerned about their public reputation say when the chocks are off. Blue Checks Gone Wild!
Or this attempt to shame someone for wrongthink charity:
In the old days he would have had to go to her house or follow her around at the grocery store to say that, which would be regarded as the act of a lunatic. Now the world knows what he thinks! O lucky world.
Okay, here’s my question for the hopeful hippies, then: if this marvelous free tool that broke down all the rules empowered the dolts and crazies and jerks, would it have been so bad if civility had been held up as a virtue and profanity discouraged? It would’ve broken down eventually, because there are always elements of the culture that want to break old norms for the joy of it, or because they are tools of existing power structures. But the lefty side of the culture spent the last half-century demeaning all the “phony” rules of decorum and applauding the poke in the sternum, the F word, the humiliation of the ideal of self-restraint, and this is what you got. You thought everyone would be hippies and hippies would be mellow. You got a hundred million Abbie Hoffmans. Great job!
We're currently enjoying . . .
Let’s bring you up to speed on the nefarious workings of the man they call . . . Brenda.
The bad guys use the X-ray to blind Pidge: and once again this happens:
But they’re okay! No seatbelts or airbags, and they’re just fine. The cops go after Brenda’s gang, but Secret Agent X-9 and the boys from the Secret Squad go back to the art-supply store - you know, the one on the waterfront - to find a clue about the whereabouts of the jewels. (The gang escaped, and went back to their secret hideout in a pirate ship parked in an amusement park.) (Yes, that’s what I said)
Guess who’s at the art supply store in the waterfront district? The Baron.
He's mysterious! He also has a lot of hat. He, too, is looking for the jewels. He says he’s waiting for Miss Whatsername, the Blonde, who is due to come by the art supply store in the waterfront district at 8:30 at night. And sure enough, she appears.
There’s some uncomfortable lying all around and no one believes anything anyone is saying, but it’s only the 3 ep so nothing comes of it. But! The Blonde tells the Baron she has a guilty conscience, and wants to come clean to the authorities. Just the thing you say to your confederate - but it lets the audience know she might be Good. Or, she's a double-dealer.
Back at FBI HQ, they get a call from an art dealer who drops by to say “you know, I’ve been out of town, and when I got back it seems some people had been living in my house.” That was last week. The gang took over “Mr. Raymond’s” mansion, remember? This is Mr. Raymond.
Because of course if you return from Europe and find your house has been occupied without anyone noticing, like landscapers or maintenance people or servants, the first thing you do is go to the FBI, where you will be put right through to Secret Agent X-9.
You know, he’s not exactly convincing.
He asks to make a call, in private, and of course the FBI agent says “sure” and leaves the room. But! He dashes next door to the wiretap room, because every FBI boss has a room next door where a guy does all the wiretapping.
And he has the call recorded. Who does Mr Raymond call?
The Blonde! So, this Raymond guy walks into the FBI, acts stilted, then asks if he can use the phone, and calls his confederate in the jewel robbery.
This is not a smart man.
Hello, the phone rings!
Got it? The lookout at the Art Shop says Raymond, the rich man who deals in Art, had stopped by the Art Supply Store in the waterfront district and “ordered six paintings.” As wealthy man-about-the-world art dealers are wont to do.
An FBI agent goes to the Art Supply Store . . .
. . . and offers to deliver the paintings. As FBI agends do all the time. Remember, one of these paintings contains a slip for a safe-deposit box where the jewels are kept. Well. She has to give that particular painting to The Baron, so she just leaves it behind for another day.
If you're keeping score, now the Baron has the painting with the slip. But Secret Agent X-9 and Pidge the Comic Relie Driverf, are watching, and run the Baron off the road - but not before he throws the painting out the window.
To cut a lonnnnng episode short, Pidge gets the painting, but is held at gunpoint by a farmer for trespassing, and Secret Agent X-9 and The Baron find the Real Mr. Raymond stuck in a hole behind a dresser in his mansion. The Baron slugs Secret Agent X-9 to go get the picture back.
Death by Automatic Gate!
That'll do, I hope. See you here and there.