Tag: Books

Today’s daily check of my Kobo wishlist (which, alas, isn’t a public thing off which people can gift) told me that both The Book of Lost Saints by Daniel José Older and Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey (Bookshop links) are on sale, each at $2.99 in ebook form.

When cobbling together my Locus books post, I experienced another time dilation, wherein the length of time that had passed since I read certain books did not make any sense at all to me and surely it wasn’t a year ago that I read The Raven Tower and surely it wasn’t November when I read A Memory Called Empire — but it was, and I’m unnerved.

Locus Awards finalists I’ve read (via Arkady Martine): The City in the Middle of the Night, The Future of Another Timeline, The Rosewater Insurrection/The Rosewater Redemption, The Raven Tower, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Pet, Destroy All Monsters, A Memory Called Empire, Gideon the Ninth (current read), A Song for a New Day, Waste Tide, The Haunting of Tram Car 015, This Is How You Lose the Time War, The Deep, The Ascent to Godhood, and A People’s Future of the United States.

Finalists still on my to-read or to-buy/borrow lists: The Starless Sea, Dead Astronauts, and “Binti: Sacred Fire” (if I can find it without having to repurchase all the Binti books in a collection).

More Hands, Less Body

My only regular podcast at this point is Social Distance from Katherine Wells and James Hamblin of The Atlantic. Today’s edition (“Is Anyone Else Not Showering?”) focuses on this Daily Mail post ridiculing Hamblin’s hygiene habits — or, more accurately, misconstruing both his hygiene habits and health advice based upon a promotional appearance for his forthcoming book, Clean: The New Science of Skin.

The podcast usually is an informative interview bookended by mutually-chiding banter between the hosts; this edition skips the interview segment. Highlights include Wells (who sounds like Jewel Staite) announcing that her Purell “has been liberated from its bladder”, Hamblin explaining that “we sold people so much soap that we had to start selling conditioner”, and a brainstorming session as to how to reduce Hamblin’s 90,000-word book down to a marketable catchphrase as a way to seize control of the internet’s apparent lack of nuance. I’ve titled this post for Hamblin’s own late-in-the-show suggestion.

For the record, I am a not-daily shower person, mostly for reasons related to regulating my available resources (or “spoons”), but I do at least actively wash up at the sink on a daily basis.

What ‘Single Collective Experience’?

Lizzie O’Shea, in Future Histories, just said something that I had to re-read a few times to make sure I was reading it right. About two-thirds of the way through the second chapter, “An Internet Built around Consumption Is a Bad Place to Live”, she remarks upon a changing internet.

In other words, shared public space begins to vanish; increasingly there is no single collective experience online.

“In general arc if not always specific sites and services,” I observed about Joanne McNeil’s recent book, “Lurking is the story of my internet, too. For her, it was AOL and Geocities; for me: gopherspace, MindVox, IRC, and Usenet.” I’m reminded of that statement because it serves to contradict O’Shea’s allegation, in that there never has been a “single collective experience” on (or of) the internet — there might have been places within all that ethereal expanse which this or that group of people might have shared, but not some overall “shared public space” in the sense O’Shea seems to mean.

People who got online around the same time often, as I suggested, have similar arcs to their onboarding and initial experiences, but the specifics will have been more or less unique.

O’Shea doubles-down on what I feel is a fundamental misconception in her next paragraph.

If we think about the Internet as a place rather than a service, this process of abstract identification is not empowering — it causes fragmentation and distance between people. It creates a world where the population is subject to different framing effects, making for increasingly insurmountable political and social divisions, worlds that stand apart from each other despite nominally existing in a communal space.

What I find weird here is that in many ways, the modern internet has more widely-spread and shared communal spaces (if not places) than it has since the heyday of Usenet — which arguably doesn’t count as a true “public space” due to the comparatively small population of the internet at the time — due to platforms like Instagram and Twitter, where anyone and everyone mostly can access anyone and everyone else almost at whim.

(Whether or not that lack of friction itself actually precludes the idea of such platforms being usable as any kind of true “public space” is another thing altogether.)

The usefulness, to me, of the early metaphor of “cyberspace” precisely lay in its amorphousness, but it’s weakness lay in conveying the idea that there was a there there — instead of communicating simply that there was room for any number of places to arise. It suggested, perhaps, that there was a sort of virtual firmament and if everyone was going there it must be “public space”.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t be trying to find better ways for us all to be online than the current ways so dominated by marketing companies abstracting our collected and collated behavior into just so many lobotomized versions of Max Headroom (“people translated as data” indeed, Bryce).

It’s just to say that, given O’Shea’s exhortations early in the book to properly characterize, and take a kind of ownership of, our past in order to inform how in the present we conceive of possible futures, it sticks out to me that she seems to get such a basic idea about how the internet has or has not changed so wrong.

Dan Hon, briefly discussing a novel he’s writing, says, “[O]ne phrase I had to write down in conversation with a friend figuring out part of, well, the fundamental conceit of the novel, was ‘edit wars for infrastructure’ in a world where software has eaten, well, the world” — and honestly all I could think of was that I’d once described Annalee Newitz’s The Future of Another Timeline as “SJWs vs. MRAs across the wiki of Time”.

Back in February, I threatened to do a re-read of some books that were formative of my experience of the early web, but then didn’t get around to it, in part because I didn’t get to move quickly enough when several of them for some reason were on sale. Today, though, I noticed that the ebook of We’ve Got Blog had dropped to $3.99, so expect some thoughts on beginning to look back at these early books, once I’m done with Future Histories.

Addenda

  1. I ended up going ahead and grabbing The Weblog Handbook now as well, as it’s only $8.99.
  2. While getting the latter book, I stumbled into The Personal Weblog: A Linguistic History, a $90 textbook from 2016 which I will not be rushing out to get, although I might try to learn a bit more about it.

There’s some serious irony in the ePub of Future Histories reminding me after every chapter that it’s really only licensed to me. Shouldn’t a book seeking an escape from digital capitalism let me really own my own copy of it?