/ / Articles, News, Podcast

Three antique leather volumes on a shelf. They are three volumes of Codex Theodos Cum, labeled TOME 1, TOME 2, TOME 3-4. Taken at the Royal College of Physicians Library, Regent's Park, London, UK.

This week on my podcast, I read Against Lore, a recent piece from my Pluralistic blog/newsletter, about writing and the benefits of nebulously defined backstories.

Warning: the last few minutes of this essay contain spoilers for Furiosa. In the recording, I give lots of warning so you can switch off when they come up.

One of my favorite nuggets of writing advice comes from James D Macdonald. Jim, a Navy vet with an encylopedic knowledge of gun lore, explained to a group of non-gun people how to write guns without getting derided by other gun people: “just add the word ‘modified.'”

As in, “Her modified AR-15 kicked against her shoulder as she squeezed the trigger, but she held it steady on the car door, watching it disintegrate in a spatter of bullet-holes.”

Jim’s big idea was that gun people couldn’t help but chew away at the verisimilitude of your fictional guns, their brains would automatically latch onto them and try to find the errors. But the word “modified” hijacked that impulse and turned it to the writer’s advantage: a gun person’s imagination gnaws at that word “modified,” spinning up the cleverest possible explanation for how the gun in question could behave as depicted.

In other words, the gun person’s impulse to one-up the writer by demonstrating their superior knowledge becomes an impulse to impart that superior knowledge to the writer. “Modified” puts the expert and the bullshitter on the same team, and conscripts the expert into fleshing out the bullshitter’s lies.


/ / Articles, News, Podcast

An EFF Section 230 banner, featuring the words SECTION 230 behind a silhouette of a stick figure yelling into a megaphone that a second stick-figure is supporting.

Today for my podcast, I read Wanna Make Big Tech Monopolies Even Worse? Kill Section 230, my EFF Deeplinks Blog post on the competition aspects of sunsetting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act:

In an age of resurgent anti-monopoly activism, small online communities, either standing on their own, or joined in loose “federations,” are the best chance we have to escape Big Tech’s relentless surveillance and clumsy, unaccountable control.


/ / Articles, News, Podcast

No One Is the Enshittifier of Their Own Story

A collection of 1950s white, suited boardroom executives seated around a table, staring at its center. The original has been altered. In the center of the table stands a stylized stick figure cartoon mascot whose head is a poop emoji rendered in the colors of the Google logo. The various memos on the boardroom table repeat this poop Google image. On the wall behind the executives is the original Google logo in an ornate gilt frame.

Today for my podcast, I read No One Is the Enshittifier of Their Own Story , my latest Locus Magazine column, about the microfoundations of enshittification:

Therein lies the tale. The same people, running the same companies, are all suddenly behaving very differently. They haven’t all suffered a change of heart, a reverse-enscroogening that caused them all to go to bed the kinds of good-natured slobs who made services we love and wake up cruel misers who clawed away all the value we created together.

Rather, these people – leaders of tech companies and the managers and product designers they command – have found themselves in an environ­ment where the constraints that kept them honest have melted away. Whereas before a manager who was tempted to enshittify their offerings had their hand stayed by the fear of some penalty, today, those penalties are greatly reduced or eliminated altogether.


/ / Articles, News, Podcast

A tightrope walker in a tuxedo and top-hat. He is about to fall off his tightrope and his eyes are white and staring, while his mouth is open in a scream. The tightrope is anchored to a street-post with a 'Wall Street' sign on it. The post is being knocked askew by hundreds of tiny workers and farmers whose upraised fists have combined into one giant fist that is pushing the post over. In front of the tightrope walker is a black anarchist cat, barring his way.

Today for my podcast, I read Precaratize Bosses, a recent essay from my Pluralistic.net newsletter.

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 this Thursday (May 2) in Winnipeg with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, then in Calgary with Wordfest on May 3, then in Vancouver at Massy Arts om May 4, then in Tartu, Estonia for a series of events with the Prima Vista Literary Festival (May 6-11), and beyond! The canonical link for the schedule is here.

Combine Angelou’s “When someone shows you who they are, believe them” with the truism that in politics, “every accusation is a confession” and you get: “Every time someone accuses you of a vice, they’re showing you who they are and you should believe them.”

Let’s talk about some of those accusations. Remember the moral panic over the CARES Act covid stimulus checks? Hyperventilating mouthpieces for the ruling class were on every cable network, complaining that “no one wants to work anymore.” The barely-submerged subtext was their belief that the only reason people show up for work is that they’re afraid of losing everything – their homes, their kids, the groceries in their fridge.



/ / Articles, News, Podcast

A scene out of an 11th century tome on demon-summoning called 'Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros. Anno 1057. Noli me tangere.' It depicts a demon tormenting two unlucky would-be demon-summoners who have dug up a grave in a graveyard. One summoner is held aloft by his hair, screaming; the other screams from inside the grave he is digging up. The scene has been altered to remove the demon's prominent, urinating penis, to add in a Tesla supercharger, and a red Tesla Model S nosing into the scene.

Today for my podcast, I read Capitalists Hate Capitalism, my latest column from Locus Magazine. It’s a meditation on the difference between feudalism and capitalism, and how to know which one you’re living under.

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 this Wednesday (Apr 17) in Chicago at Anderson’s Books, then in Torino for the Biennale keynote on Apr 21, then in Marin County at Book Passage Corte Madera on Apr 27, then in Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver, and beyond! The canonical link for the schedule is here.

Varoufakis’s argument turns on an important distinction between two types of income: profits and rents. These terms have colloquial meanings that are widely understood, but Varoufakis is interested in the precise technical definitions used by economists.

For an economist, ‘‘profit’’ is income obtained by mixing capital – tools, machines, systems – with your employees’ labor. The value created by that labor is then divided between the worker, who draws a wage, and the capitalist, who takes the rest as profit.

‘‘Rent,’’ meanwhile, was income derived from owning something that the capitalist needs in order to realize a profit. In feudal times, hereditary lords owned plots of land that serfs were bound to, and those serfs owed an annual rent to their lords. This wasn’t a great deal for the serfs, but it also needled the nascent capitalist class, who would have very much preferred to have those lands enclosed for sheep grazing. The sheep would produce wool, which could be woven into cloth in the ‘‘dark, Satanic mills’’ of the industrial revolution. The former serfs, turned off their land, could be set to work in those factories.



/ / Articles, News, Podcast

A group of child miners, looking grimy and miserable, standing in a blasted gravel wasteland. To their left, standing on a hill, is a club-wielding, mad-eyed, top-hatted debt collector, brandishing a document bearing an Android logo.

Today for my podcast, I read Subprime gadgets, originally published in my Pluralistic blog:

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 on April 11 in Boston with Randall Munroe, on April 12th in Providence, Rhode Island, then onto Chicago, Torino, Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver and beyond! The canonical link for the schedule is here.

The promise of feudal security: “Surrender control over your digital life so that we, the wise, giant corporation, can ensure that you aren’t tricked into catastrophic blunders that expose you to harm”:


The tech giant is a feudal warlord whose platform is a fortress; move into the fortress and the warlord will defend you against the bandits roaming the lawless land beyond its walls.

That’s the promise, here’s the failure: What happens when the warlord decides to attack you? If a tech giant decides to do something that harms you, the fortress becomes a prison and the thick walls keep you in.



/ / Articles, News, Podcast

Burning of 'dirt and trash literature' at the 18th Elementary school in Berlin-Pankow (Buchholz), on the evening of International Children's Day, June 1st, 1955. It was the first of a wave of initiatives by the Parents-Teachers Association (Elternversammlungen), to legally ban 'trash and filth.'

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.”



/ / Articles, News, Podcast

A credit card. Its background is a 'code waterfall' effect from the credit-sequences of the Wachowskis' 'Matrix' movies. On the right side is a cliche'd 'hacker in a hoodie' image whose face is replaced by the hostile red eye of HAL9000 from Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey.' Across the top of the card is 'Li'l Federal Credit Union.' The cardholder's name is 'I.M. Sucker.'

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).


(Image: Cryteria, CC BY 3.0, modified)


/ / News, Podcast

A photo of me, wearing a suit and a mask, standing with my arms open at a podium at the Canadian embassy in Berlin, giving my McLuhan Lecture.

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.


/ / Articles, News, Podcast

A popping water-balloon, caught mid-burst. Superimposed over it is the hostile glaring eye of HAL9000 from Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey.'

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.