technology

8 March 2013

Do you want to write like Ernest Hemingway or Bruce Chatwin? Then you need a Moleskine notebook. Purchase one of these marvels of stationery engineering – the strokable black cover with rounded corners, the bookmark, the expandable back pocket, the sewn pages – and it surely won’t be long before you are composing muscular sentences about exotic perambulations and recently deceased animals. The Moleskine has become such a writer’s fetish object, indeed, that the company is now planning to go public on the Milan stock exchange, potentially valuing it at €600m.

This despite the fact that Hemingway and Chatwin never actually used a Moleskine. The Italian publisher Modo&Modo created the brand in 1997, so its “heritage” – the website also mentions Picasso and Van Gogh – is more myth than fact. Even so, Moleskines (based on a description by Chatwin of a type of notebook he used to buy in France) are seriously good products. And writers must be allowed their little tool obsessions – some swear by £80 mechanical pencils, others by a certain obscure brand of Japanese gel pen.

Read the rest at the Guardian.

17 January 2013

Downtrodden employees of the world, take heart: a rebel hero walks among us. A man in his mid-40s, identified in reports only as “Bob”, was a star programmer earning a six-figure salary at an American infrastructure company. When the company commissioned a network-security audit, they belatedly discovered that “Bob” had outsourced his own job to a Chinese software company for a fifth of his pay. Relieved of his workload, Bob would spend his entire office day on the internet, flicking from eBay to Facebook to cat videos, before writing a progress-report email for his bosses and knocking off at 5pm. Sadly, upon finding out how resourcefully Bob had managed his own productivity, the firm sacked him rather than marvelling at his initiative and promoting him to senior management.

Described as a “family man” and “quiet and inoffensive”, Bob is a tech-wizard Bartleby for an age of “flexible” labour markets.

Read the rest at the Guardian.

7 December 2012

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, by Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson thinks you might be a toy company. After telling the heartwarming anecdote of how he fabricated some doll’s house furniture for his daughters using a new 3D printer – which works like an inkjet printer but sprays down layers of liquefied plastic to make a solid object – the former Wired editor says he might never buy doll’s house furniture again. “If you’re a toy company,” Anderson threatens, “this story should give you chills.” I didn’t get chills, but then I’m not a toy company. This is the sort of book, however, that is mainly aimed at corporate persons, and at individuals only to the extent that they work for corporate persons, cherishing the dream of becoming an “entrepreneur”, that perfection of the human spirit to which all human history, at least as Anderson recounts it, has been leading.

Read the rest at the Guardian.

Like every other era, the internet age has its own class of booster gurus. They are the “cybertheorists”, embedded reporters of the social network, dreaming of a perfectible electronic future and handing down oracular commandments about how the world must be remade. As did many religious rebels before them, they come to bring not peace, but a sword. Change is inevitable; we must abandon the old ways. The cybertheorists, however, are a peculiarly corporatist species of the Leninist class: they agitate for constant revolution but the main beneficiaries will be the giant technology companies before whose virtual image they prostrate themselves.

Read the rest at the New Statesman.

8 November 2012

On the history and future of human enhancement

In The Matrix, one of the machines’ sharp-suited kung-fu enforcers, Agent Jones, is standing over Neo on a rooftop, about to kill him. Jones looks down and sneers: “Only human.” Arguably it is something like this contempt for the merely human — or a kind of embarrassment at it — that has driven humans themselves, over the millennia, to pursue self-enhancement. For a long time now, indeed, few of us have been “only human” in the sense of getting through life solely on what biology has given us. Spectacles, contact lenses, dental crowns and implants, pacemakers, running shoes — all these are technological improvements to the capacities of a human body, and thus enhancements. Even clothes, adopted according to the Bible after a moment of Edenic shame at what is “only human”, are enhancements, enabling us to live in hostile climates. Now, improvements in cognitive pharmaceuticals, genetic engineering and hi-tech prostheses enable some to dream of a future of accelerating species enhancement, reaching a point where we will have become — what? Übermenschen; cyborgs; post-humans? Or just better versions of ourselves?

Read the rest at Aeon magazine.

6 November 2012

Recent news suggests an internal war at Apple over its “skeuomorphic” interface designs: making software visually resemble real-world physical objects. I here republish my anti-skeuomorphist manifesto of February 2011, originally posted at 3 Quarks Daily.

Please tear your eyes away from this elegant and curiously seductive prose for a few seconds and look at what surrounds this webpage on your display. Unless you are browsing in full-screen “kiosk” mode or kicking it old-school with Lynx, chances are your browser program is designed to look like some sort of machine. It will have been crafted to resemble aluminium or translucent plastic of varying textures, with square or round or rhomboid buttons and widgets in delicate pseudo-3D gradients, so they look solid, and animate with a shadowed depth illusion when you click them. Me, I hate this stuff. I think it’s not only useless but pernicious and sometimes actively misleading. Won’t you please join me in declaring War on Chrome? Continued →

17 October 2012

Late one Friday evening, my phone played the codec-out sound from Metal Gear Solid, and an email arrived. My stolen laptop had been taken online, and now — like a resourceful kidnap victim — it was phoning home, unknown to its captor. The laptop was beaming back all the information needed to rescue it. And so began one of the strangest episodes so far of my life with technology. Continued →

3 July 2012

“The Week in Books”, Guardian, 30 June 2012.

The fatwa against Salman Rushdie has now gone virtual. A nasty-sounding new videogame announced this week by Iran’s Islamic Association of Students aims to show the writer’s “sin”, under the menacing title The Stressful Life of Salman Rushdie and Implementation of his Verdict.

Videogames’ use as political propaganda is not new, and neither is their engagement with the world of literature, but this news could spark a topical trend. Continued →