(But you’ll have to buy a copy or subscribe to the online edition.)
¶ The first must-read is really a can’t-help-reading: Tad Friend’s “Crowded House.” Words fail, because Friend has used all the good ones, and embedded them in such rich contexts that any attempt to excerpt the funny bits would be perverse. That crack about the extradition treaty, though — my hoots must have been heard down the hall. People will be talking about the piece for years, I expect: if you would hand over a substantial sum of money (four figures) to someone like Michael Tammaro, then the Big Apple is probably an unhealthy environment for you.
¶ Much less fun, but just as well written, George Packer’s look at the political awakening of Silicon Valley, “Change the World” is pregnant with significance. To my ancient eyes, one passage stood out with such synecdochal clarity that I will let it stand for the whole. Again, however, the context is rich, so I have to copy out the preceding paragraph as well.
A favorite word in tech circles is “frictionless.” It captures the pleasures of an app so beautifully designed that using it is intuitive, and it evokes a fantasy in which all inefficiencies, annoyances, and grievances have been smoothed out of existence — that is, an apolitical world. Dave Morin, who worked at Apple and Facebook, is the founder of a company called Path — a social network limited to one’s fifty closest friends. In his office, which has a panoramic view of south San Francisco, he said that one of his company’s goals is to make technology increasingly seamless with real life. He described San Francisco as a place where people already live in the future. They can hang out with their friends even when they’re alone. They inhabit a “sharing economy”: they can book a weeklong stay in a cool apartment through Airbnb, which has disrupted the hotel industry, or hire a luxury car anywhere in the city through the mobile app Uber, which has disrupted the taxi industry. “San Francisco is a place where we can go downstairs and get in an Uber and go to dinner at a place that I god a restaurant reservation for halfway there,” Morin said. “And, if not, we could go to my place, and on the way there I could order takeout food from my favorite restaurant on Postmates, and a bike messenger will go and pick it up for me. We’ll watch it happen on the phone. These things are crazy ideas.”
It suddenly occurred to me that the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that’s who thinks them up. [Emphasis supplied.]
The dreamers of Silicon Valley appear to long for a world in which thought is reserved for important, meaningful matters, and not for worrying about running out of batteries or paying taxes. This is the world that wealthy Victorian vicars enjoyed. They had servants and solicitors to see to all the mundane worries. The vicar might have looked like an archetypal householder, but in practice he was nothing of the kind. Rather, he was a household divinity enshrined in a well-run domestic establishment. The vicar also lived a supra-political life, one without viable alternatives to the Party of God.
Engineers design systems. That’s why it’s crucial that they be educated in the humanities, and taught (until they accept the fact) that people will neither willingly nor effectively participate in systems — and that that’s a very good thing.