The Blogroll: Week 6

If you’re asking “what the heck am I looking at?”, here’s a primer. Also, if you know of an article or blog I should be reading, let me know.


Toby Shorin - After Authenticity

Has it occurred to you that nobody talks about sellouts anymore?

Recently on my commute I passed someone wearing an Obey shirt. I was reminded of friends and internet commenters on forums I once frequented who used to gripe about Shepard Fairey leveraging his success as a street artist to create the skate clothing line. Their complaints always came down to “authenticity,” something Fairey ostensibly surrendered when he turned his classic Andre the Giant image into a saleable commodity.

But I haven’t heard about anyone selling out in a long while. Sometime between 2008 and 2018, capitalizing on your success as an artist to build a skate brand went from being reprehensible to being the thing that everyone is doing.

Whew, so this is a long read for sure, but I think it’s worth reading. As someone who “came of age” in the recession era, a lot of it hits home.

This paragraph was particularly good:

Venkat once told me that writing anything over 3000 words forces you to contend with your personal demons. I can confirm this to be true. This event kicked off a long period of reflection and embattlement with the fact that my own ethics—even my own sense of self—were based on authenticity. At the time, I was trying to change my unhealthy relationship to work. For years my anxieties around work had centered on far-flung future goals—a sort of personal teleology about what I was supposed to achieve and the type of person I was supposed to become. It struck me then that there is a deep entitlement to the idea of an authentic self.


Rob Horning - Mass Authentic

In managing our ambivalence with authenticity, we commit ourselves to the process of endlessly managing our personal brand, valorizing authentic goods, performing emotional labor, circulating tokens of “realness,” building out quasi-professional networks, generating new circuits of value. Self-realization becomes alienated at its core, as personal creativity becomes indistinguishable from an ongoing job interview. This is why Frédéric Lordon suggests that the artist — “the very emblem of free will and the unreserved commitment of the self” — has become the “avatar” of the ideal employee in neoliberal society.

Neoliberalism’s fusion with authenticity has found its full flowering in social media, where enormous quantities of labor are volunteered and harnessed, and self-presentation is foregrounded as entrepreneurial human capital development. Social media, which specialize in collapsing the generic and the particular, friends and strangers, is at once a perfect space for organizing an intimate public around authenticity and for organizing labor around an ongoing project of self-branding. We manage our ambivalence one social media post at a time, and let the decontextualized response they receive from no one in particular, serve the managerial role of impelling or redirecting our efforts.

I’m clearly trying to crush my sense of self this morning. Slightly unrelated, I had a conversation with one of my friends from high school the other day about cities. We don’t talk a whole lot, but we’re a product of the same culture — he said, “We gotta go see the country really considering a move at the end of the year. I’m tired of cities.” My response was, “Oh wow, so I said the same exact thing to Emily a few days ago. I keep telling her I want to move to Missoula, Montana.”

I’m not saying some sort of mass cultural shift is underway, but I can feel this cultural urge to get away from consumption as a requirement. I think the thinking is that you’re more likely to find your authentic self if you can remove yourself from the monoculture. But what’s going to end up happening is that a bunch of us ex-hipsters (still hipsters?) will just drive up housing prices in Missoula, then get upset when our monoculture dominates the existing culture with plywood coffee shops and back-to-basics barbers.

I don’t even know where I’m going with this. My only advice — if you’re in my headspace — is to find friends and go on adventures.


Laura Swinton - How to Mine Bitcoin While Brushing Your Teeth

A toothbrush that mines bitcoin while you brush… if the Bitbrush sounds like an agency prank, then that’s because that’s what it is. Or was. The whimsical piece of oral hygiene tech from Deutsch LA started out life as a bit of a lark for April Fool’s Day, until the agency’s tech and production got involved and figured that they could turn a joke into a working prototype.

Toothbrushing and cryptocurrency may seem like a fairly random combination – but not so for Mike Frank, SVP, Creative Director, who drew from his childhood to come up with the idea.

“We were kicking around the idea of mining for cryptocurrency because it’s a thing right now, and a lot of people are talking about it and trying to get into it. So we were like, ‘what’s the most ridiculous way someone could mine for bitcoin?’. My mother’s actually a dentist and a professor of dentistry and so when we were growing up she was always trying to motivate us to brush our teeth,” explains Mike.

At first, I rolled my eyes, but then I thought about that scene in the Matrix where it was revealed that humans were just batteries for robots that actually run the world. It’s an awful vision of the future, but if you modify it just slightly, maybe we could create a world where our basic financial needs are fulfilled by tasks that save society money in the long run. Like, if exercising is linked to lower lifetime medical bills, and lower medical bills are linked to lower government expenditures, maybe use some of that physical energy to wind up some kind of crypto dongle so “the man” could pay you for your effort?

I’m all about passive income these days.


Franklin Foer - The Era of Fake Video Begins

Vladimir Nabokov once wrote that reality is one of the few words that means nothing without quotation marks. He was sardonically making a basic point about relative perceptions: When you and I look at the same object, how do you really know that we see the same thing? Still, institutions (media, government, academia) have helped people coalesce around a consensus—rooted in a faith in reason and empiricism—about how to describe the world, albeit a fragile consensus that has been unraveling in recent years. Social media have helped bring on a new era, enabling individuated encounters with the news that confirm biases and sieve out contravening facts. The current president has further hastened the arrival of a world beyond truth, providing the imprimatur of the highest office to falsehood and conspiracy.

But soon this may seem an age of innocence. We’ll shortly live in a world where our eyes routinely deceive us. Put differently, we’re not so far from the collapse of reality.

I’m having an authenticity crisis over here, and the internet is basically creating a world where not even video can be trusted. May you live in interesting times.


Om Malik - BestMade? Not Quite

I won’t be passing down that vest to future generations, and I perhaps feel guilty if even giving it to charity, lest I get cursed by its prospective owner. In case you were wondering about those $23-a-pair Japanese merino socks? Well, three washes later, they are in no better shape than woolen socks you buy from Uniqlo. I know, whose products I won’t be buying in the future.

Articulating my disappointment is difficult. Most people don’t quite understand that a brand and design are experiential and it goes beyond just a beautiful product, a great website, and a fancy name. You have to back up words and pretty pictures with real quality. As we start to see this Instagram-influenced direct-to-consumer ecosystem, it is essential for a buyer to be able to trust the brand.

Speaking of authenticity, BestMade Co. oozes authenticity. I get a BestMade catalog once a quarter or so (I’m clearly on a hipster advertising list), and it’s a beautifully designed spectacle showing people being “authentic” in gorgeous locations all over the world. You know, cutting logs for campfires in southern Argentina with $400 BestMade axes — you get the idea. It’s authenticity capitalism in its most obvious form.

On one hand, I feel like society should reject it and move to a Wirecutter mentality where you just get the thing that performs best, rather than the thing that’s prettiest. But what I really want is a middle ground — sure, I want a computer that has all the specs, but I don’t want to look like a doofus pulling an Alienware laptop out of my bag. Aesthetics matter. Aesthetics ease our minds — it’s why corner offices with windows are more appealing than basement cubes.

What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t take this article and reject vanity altogether — but there’s a lesson to be learned. Your brand needs balance. A good cover needs a good book, and a good book needs a good cover.


Charlie Owen - Dear Developer, The Web Isn’t About You

Because, sweetpea, you simply don’t know a users situation.

Oh, you can guess at it. You can assume that they’re always sitting at their desk, or always on wifi, or have time to concentrate on your task.

But knowing what their situation is? Uh uh, sorry, you don’t know that.

They could be on a borrowed device. They could be using a work computer that they have no control over. They could have suffered a temporary or permanent disability. You simply don’t know!

Look at it this way: you don’t just build cars that only work in the best conditions, do you? Imagine a car that only worked on a sunny day, on a flat road! Oh, how silly that would be. No, you build it so that it works in horrible weather, so that it works when driven over grass or a gravel dirt road. In the same way you don’t just build sites that only work in the best conditions.

You’re a web developer. Your job is to make a site work for everyone, in all conditions.


Matt Serlin - GDPR and WHOIS - Winners and Losers

In the winners category:

Privacy Advocates – GDPR is a huge win for privacy advocates. For years, these folks have stood up at ICANN meetings and eloquently spoken about the WHOIS system flying in the face of one’s right to basic privacy online. They have argued the simple act of registering a domain name should not come with the requirement to publish one’s personal contact information in a publicly-available WHOIS database. With GDPR, it becomes clear that registration of a domain name will no longer require publication of personal data in a free and open database.

In the losers category:

Brand Owners – Without a doubt, enforcement of brands and trademarks online is going to get more complex as a result of changes to WHOIS. Brand holders have relied upon open access to WHOIS for years, as a first step to enforcement on infringing domain names. This once-taken-for-granted utility will become much less speedy and create inefficiencies that simply haven’t existed previously. While there is a proposal for gated-access to WHOIS information for IP enforcement uses, it clearly will not be in place on May 25th and may take months, if not longer. Clearly, brand owners are in for some challenging times ahead.

Not taking sides, but this is an interesting look at how tricky regulating something is. There will always be winners and losers — you just have to do your best to make the positives outweigh the negatives.

I think that’s why I struggled so much watching the Senate hearings for Mark Zuckerberg. I’m definitely in the regulation camp, but I worry that our representatives don’t know enough about what’s going on to not do more harm than good.

The actual blogroll

(Blogs are ranked in order of appearances in these Blogroll posts. Also, I’m only listing blogs that don’t act as newspapers, because those are the ones I feel need the most support.)