I’ve got a old-fashioned link-blog, Pluralistic, where I post a daily list of links with commentary and analysis. If you’d prefer to get it as a newsletter, you can subcribe to the Plura-list. Both are free from surveillance and advertising.
Today for my podcast, I read The majority of censorship is self-censorship, originally published in my Pluralistic blog. It’s a breakdown of Ada Palmer’s excellent Reactor essay about the modern and historical context of censorship.
I recorded this on a day when I was home between book-tour stops (I’m out with my new techno crime-thriller, The Bezzle. Catch me tomorrow (Monday) in Seattle with Neal Stephenson at Third Place Books. Then it’s Powell’s in Portland, and then Tuscon. The canonical link for the schedule is here.
States – even very powerful states – that wish to censor lack the resources to accomplish totalizing censorship of the sort depicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four. They can’t go from house to house, searching every nook and cranny for copies of forbidden literature. The only way to kill an idea is to stop people from expressing it in the first place. Convincing people to censor themselves is, “dollar for dollar and man-hour for man-hour, much cheaper and more impactful than anything else a censorious regime can do.”
Ada invokes examples modern and ancient, including from her own area of specialty, the Inquisition and its treatment of Gailileo. The Inquistions didn’t set out to silence Galileo. If that had been its objective, it could have just assassinated him. This was cheap, easy and reliable! Instead, the Inquisition persecuted Galileo, in a very high-profile manner, making him and his ideas far more famous.
But this isn’t some early example of Inquisitorial Streisand Effect. The point of persecuting Galileo was to convince Descartes to self-censor, which he did. He took his manuscript back from the publisher and cut the sections the Inquisition was likely to find offensive. It wasn’t just Descartes: “thousands of other major thinkers of the time wrote differently, spoke differently, chose different projects, and passed different ideas on to the next century because they self-censored after the Galileo trial.”
Today for my podcast, I read How I Got Scammed, originally published in my Pluralistic blog. It’s a story of how the attacker has to get lucky once, while the defender has to never make a single mistake.
This is my last podcast before I take off for my next book-tour, for my new novel, The Bezzle. I’m ranging far and wide: LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Calgary, Phoenix, Portland, Providence, Boston, New York City, Toronto, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Tucson, Chicago, Buffalo, as well as Torino and Tartu.
My first two stops are Weller Bookworks in Salt Lake City on Feb 21 and Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego on Feb 22, followed by LA (with Adam Conover!), Seattle (with Neal Stephenson!), and Portland. The canonical link for the schedule is here.
I wuz robbed.
More specifically, I was tricked by a phone-phisher pretending to be from my bank, and he convinced me to hand over my credit-card number, then did $8,000+ worth of fraud with it before I figured out what happened. And then he tried to do it again, a week later!
Here’s what happened. Over the Christmas holiday, I traveled to New Orleans. The day we landed, I hit a Chase ATM in the French Quarter for some cash, but the machine declined the transaction. Later in the day, we passed a little credit-union’s ATM and I used that one instead (I bank with a one-branch credit union and generally there’s no fee to use another CU’s ATM).
A couple days later, I got a call from my credit union. It was a weekend, during the holiday, and the guy who called was obviously working for my little CU’s after-hours fraud contractor. I’d dealt with these folks before – they service a ton of little credit unions, and generally the call quality isn’t great and the staff will often make mistakes like mispronouncing my credit union’s name.
That’s what happened here – the guy was on a terrible VOIP line and I had to ask him to readjust his mic before I could even understand him. He mispronounced my bank’s name and then asked if I’d attempted to spend $1,000 at an Apple Store in NYC that day. No, I said, and groaned inwardly. What a pain in the ass. Obviously, I’d had my ATM card skimmed – either at the Chase ATM (maybe that was why the transaction failed), or at the other credit union’s ATM (it had been a very cheap looking system).
Come see me on tour! (permalink)
My next novel is The Bezzle, a high-tech ice-cold revenge thriller starring Marty Hench, a two-fisted forensic accountant, as he takes on the sleaziest scams of the first two decades of the 2000s, from hamburger-themed Ponzis to the unbelievably sleazy and evil prison-tech industry:
I’m taking Marty on the road! I’ll be visiting eighteen cities between now and June, and I hope you’ll come out and say hello, visit a beloved local bookseller, and maybe get a book (or two)!
21 Feb: Weller Bookworks, Salt Lake City, 1830h:
22 Feb: Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, 19h:
24 Feb: Vroman’s, Pasadena, 17h, with Adam Conover (!!)
26 Feb: Third Place Books, Seattle, 19h, with Neal Stephenson (!!!)
27 Feb: Powell’s, Portland, 19h:
29 Feb: Changing Hands, Phoenix, 1830h:
9-10 Mar: Tucson Festival of the Book:
13 Mar: San Francisco Public Library, details coming soon!
23 or 24 Mar: Toronto, details coming soon!
25-27 Mar: NYC and DC, details coming soon!
29-31 Mar: Wondercon Anaheim:
11 Apr: Anderson’s Books, Chicago, 19h:
12 Apr: RISD Debates in AI, Providence, details coming soon!
19-21 Apr: Torino Biennale Tecnologia
2 May, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Winnipeg
5-11 May: Tartu Prima Vista Literary Festival
6-9 Jun: Media Ecology Association keynote, Amherst, NY
Calgary and Vancouver – details coming soon!
Last week, I traveled to Berlin to give the annual Marshall McLuhan lecture to open the Transmediale festival. I gave the talk to a full house at the Canadian embassy, and the embassy was kind enough to upload their video of the speech. This podcast is a rip of the audio from that Youtube video. I’ve also posted a transcript of the talk.
Last year, I coined the term ‘enshittification,’ to describe the way that platforms decay. That obscene little word did big numbers, it really hit the zeitgeist. I mean, the American Dialect Society made it their Word of the Year for 2023 (which, I suppose, means that now I’m definitely getting a poop emoji on my tombstone).
So what’s enshittification and why did it catch fire? It’s my theory explaining how the internet was colonized by platforms, and why all those platforms are degrading so quickly and thoroughly, and why it matters – and what we can do about it.
We’re all living through the enshittocene, a great enshittening, in which the services that matter to us, that we rely on, are turning into giant piles of shit.
It’s frustrating. It’s demoralizing. It’s even terrifying.
I think that the enshittification framework goes a long way to explaining it, moving us out of the mysterious realm of the ‘great forces of history,’ and into the material world of specific decisions made by named people – decisions we can reverse and people whose addresses and pitchfork sizes we can learn.
Enshittification names the problem and proposes a solution. It’s not just a way to say ‘things are getting worse’ (though of course, it’s fine with me if you want to use it that way. It’s an English word. We don’t have der Rat für englische Rechtschreibung. English is a free for all. Go nuts, meine Kerle).
But in case you want to use enshittification in a more precise, technical way, let’s examine how enshittification works.
It’s a three stage process: First, platforms are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.
This week on my podcast, I read my latest Locus Magazine column. “What kind of bubble is AI?” In it, I ask what will be left behind after the AI bubble bursts:
You’ve got one week left to back the Kickstarter for my next novel, The Bezzle, the followup to Red Team Blues. I’m preselling hardcovers, ebooks, and an audiobook read by Wil Wheaton. Please consider backing it and helping support my work (including this podcast!).
But the most important residue after the bubble popped was the millions of young people who’d been lured into dropping out of university in order to take dotcom jobs where they got all-expenses paid crash courses in HTML, Perl, and Python. This army of technologists was unique in that they were drawn from all sorts of backgrounds – art-school dropouts, humanities dropouts, dropouts from earth science and bioscience programs and other disciplines that had historically been consumers of technology, not producers of it.
This created a weird and often wonderful dynamic in the Bay Area, a brief respite between the go-go days of Bubble 1.0 and Bubble 2.0, a time when the cost of living plummeted in the Bay Area, as did the cost of office space, as did the cost of servers. People started making technology because it served a need, or because it delighted them, or both. Technologists briefly operated without the goad of VCs’ growth-at-all-costs spurs.
The bubble was terrible. VCs and scammers scooped up billions from pension funds and other institutional investors and wasted it on obviously doomed startups. But after all that “irrational exuberance” burned away, the ashes proved a fertile ground for new growth.
Contrast that bubble with, say, cryptocurrency/NFTs, or the complex financial derivatives that led up to the 2008 financial crisis. These crises left behind very little reusable residue. The expensively retrained physicists whom the finance sector taught to generate wildly defective risk-hedging algorithms were not able to apply that knowledge to create successor algorithms that were useful. The fraud of the cryptocurrency bubble was far more pervasive than the fraud in the dotcom bubble, so much so that without the fraud, there’s almost nothing left. A few programmers were trained in Rust, a very secure programming language that is broadly applicable elsewhere. But otherwise, the residue from crypto is a lot of bad digital art and worse Austrian economics.
This week on my podcast, I read my final Medium column
The internet’s original sin, about the failure of trying to stretch copyright to cover every problem on the internet.
Copyright is a regulation. It regulates the supply-chain of the entertainment industry. Copyright matters a lot to me, because I’m in the industry.
But unless you’re in the industry, it shouldn’t matter to you.
It’s fine to require a grasp of copyright among people who write, publish and distribute novels — but it’s bananas to require people who read novels to understand copyright.
And yet, here we are.
The test for whether copyright applies to you — for whether you are part of the entertainment industry’s supply chain — is whether you are making or dealing in copies of creative works. This test was once a very good one.
Back when every book had a printing press in its history, every record a record-pressing plant, every film a film-lab, “making or handling copies of creative works” was a pretty good test to determine whether someone was part of the entertainment industry. Even if it turned out they weren’t, the kind of person who has a record-pressing plant can afford to consult an expert to make sure they’re on the right side of the law.
12 years ago, my four-year-old daughter’s nursery school let us know they’d be shutting down for Christmas a day before my wife’s office closed down, so I took the kid into my office in London to do some coloring, play with toys, and, eventually, record a podcast. It was hilarious.
In the years since, we’ve done this nine more times (we missed one year, after my podcasting mic got broken during our move to Los Angeles). Now the kid is fifteen (!), learning to drive (!!), and I still managed to get her on the mic for a session to discuss her hobbies, TV shows, online habits, and musical favorites, and once again, we sang a seasonal song!
This week on my podcast, I read my Locus Magazine column “Don’t Be Evil,” about the microeconomics and moral injury of enshittification.
It’s tempting to think of the Great Enshittening – in which all the internet services we enjoyed and came to rely upon became suddenly and irreversibly terrible – as the result of moral decay. That is, it’s tempting to think that the people who gave us the old, good internet did so because they were good people, and the people who enshittified it did so because they are shitty people.
But the services that defined the old, good internet weren’t designed or maintained by individuals; they were created by institutions – mostly for-profit companies, but also non-profits, government and military agencies and academic and research facilities. Institutions are made up of individuals, of course, but the thing that makes an institution institutional is that no one person can direct it. The actions of an institution are the result of its many individual constituent parts, both acting in concert, and acting against one another.
In other words: institutional action is the result of its individuals resolving their conflicts. Institutional action is the net results of wheedling, horse-trading, solidarity, skullduggery, power-moves, trickery, coercion, rational argument, love, spite, ferocity, and indifference among the institution’s members.
Today is the day that my new novel, The Lost Cause, goes on sale, and I’m hitting the road with it! I hope you can make it out – tell your friends!
Los Angeles: I’ll be at the Studio City branch of the LA Public Library tonight, Monday, November 13 at 1830hPT; there’ll be a reading, a talk, a surprise guest (!!) and a signing, with books on sale. Tell your friends! Come on down!
Stratford, Ontario: I’m onstage on November 16 at 19hET with Vass Bednar at the University of Waterloo Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business. I’ll also be doing a talk for middle-schoolers at the Stratford Public Library on November 16 from 1330hET-1430hET.
Concord, NH: I’ll be at Gibson’s Bookstore on Saturday, November 18th at 13hET.
Simsbury, CT: I’m at the Simsbury Public Library on November 20 at 19h.
Toronto, ON: I’m at the Metro Reference Library on November 22, at 19hET, hosted by Vass Bednar.
Toronto, ON: I’m hosting Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, on November 27 at 19hET, at the Metro Reference Library.
New York City: I’m at the Strand Bookstore on November 29 at 19hET.
Chapel Hill, NC: I’m at Flyleaf Books on December 5, live with Sarah Taber, at 18hET.
If you don’t see your city on this list, don’t panic! I’ve got another tour coming in a couple of months, when The Bezzle, sequel to Red Team Blues, comes out in February: