Sometimes what I think is funny, others do not find funny. Like last week’s nearly simultaneous profiles of a co-founder of Twitter. Jack Dorsey. He of the moodiness and A-line skirt designs and, apparently, fabricated origin stories of my favorite social media platform.
I read the New York Times profile first: an excerpt of a book whose premise capitalizes on what i find most interesting about this whole thing: our tendency to make heroes out of tech biz dudes.
(Because who are the tech biz women of whom we’ve made heroes? Melissa Mayer? Sheryl Sandberg? While every schmo with a 401(k) and an airplane ticket has bought and read the Steve Jobs book believing it to be the road to a house, yacht, and summer home all made of SOLID GOLD!. Sandberg’s readers are more like “um, will my kids hate me if I take this promotion? Will I lay on my deathbed regretting my inability to make bake sale shit from scratch?” And everyone else is too busy bashing them to notice how hard it is to get where they are, and maybe we could learn from it.)
The digression is the point, of course, but back to the set-up. Someone wrote a book about how Twitter was founded by human beings. The book shines a light on their humanness: divorce, professional regrets, talents out of joint with ones company’s needs, exaggeration at parties about ones accomplishments.
All very human.
But since the humans in this particular story founded Twitter, they get to be heroes. Tech millionaires! They’re just like us! Except with summer homes made of SOLID GOLD!
Which is, in turn, the premise of all celebrity culture: we require our heroes both to be petty like us and to gloriously transcend our pettiness.
So why did I devour both profiles? Knowing that tech biz celebrities are just like any other celebrity?
Because I frickin’ love Twitter. You guys, I love it. I check it all the time. Even when I’m bored with it I check it all the time.
So imagine my interest in the end of this piece, about a bunch of books about contemporary distraction/attention/boredom/fear etc. etc. since Web 2.0 seized our consciousness and, backed by the relentless profiteering of tech biz heroes, will never let us go. Like pit bulls.
Most of the article was so-so, a review of ideas percolating at least since I started studying them in graduate school, at the cusp of the bursting of the Great Dot Com Bubble. But the end of the piece (paywalled, suckers) he goes back in time. All the way back to a hunnert years ago. When anti-noise-in-public-space activists successfully lobbied city planners and politicians to plan cities around the human need for quiet. So now we have parks with trees that buffer our human ears from the sounds of the buggies and horses whinnying.
Morozov wants there to emerge forth a cadre of time-and-attention-activists to engineer and help pass new policies governing our smartphone world: controlling when ads pop up on our phones as we stroll along the boulevard, for example.
Because I don’t really give a damn about how technology is re-wiring our brains and Think of the Children! and demolishing the human tendency to contemplate (a bourgeois tendency at best, and nothing like a universal human one). Nor do I give a damn about the personal foibles of the dudes who founded Twitter. Nor do I give a damn about all the ways in which these new tools are fantastic and/or horrible.
But I do give a damn about how many ads pollute my personal space, and how often this pollution happens. And I do regret all the times I let my dumb Twitter stream distract me from important human events like eye contact with family members.
So here’s the TfH guide to what matters about the Internet Economy:
1. Who gets paid, for what, and why. And who doesn’t. Basic questions about economic equity.
2. When will Jezebel get an app so I can check it when I’m away from my computer?
3. Who benefits from social capital in the new media climate? And who doesn’t? Basic questions about social equity. Like, women.
4. How have these new technologies have enabled and intensified pre-existing cultural tendencies, such as the vast devaluation of higher education and the humanities?
5. What designers does Melissa Mayer prefer? Are they American???
Meanwhile, I’m pleased to see so many paeans to Lou Reed. Many, many believe him to be a hero more important to our culture than the founders of Twitter. Or even Apple.
So here’s one of my favorite Lou Reed songs, from a record that I haven’t seen mentioned in the numerous obituaries and retrospectives.
“Life’s like mayonnaise soda. Life’s like space without room.” Enjoy.