Several Essay Ideas

Hello friends. I’ve been sitting on a bunch of essay ideas for the past few years. I’m going to start writing them up. I’m also going to approach publishing them in accordance with the Extreme Programming principle of “Release early, release often.” So here they are early: rough, broken and hopefully timely.

The Vanguard and Techne

Broadly, the underlying theme connecting these essays is to be the impact of rapid technological developments on society, with a particular attention to the impact on the cultural vanguard / bohemia. A central concern of 20th century avant garde angst was that culture flowed in a single direction from a small number of powerful elites out to the masses. In a world that has an Internet, that’s patently no longer the case. As the pace of technological change accelerates and the ramifications of those changes propagate out into society, who holds the power? What are the implications for the bohemians, creatives, and freaks?

These and related questions are to be addressed as below:

Rethinking 20th century avant garde values for an increasingly decentralized world

As technology pushes power outwards from concentrated centers to a vast proliferation of edges, which battles remain to be fought by the erstwhile margin-dwellers? Was the concentration of power really the primary issue at stake—or are there other things to consider?

Surveillance and the Reverse Panopticon

From Bentham’s “Panopticon” to cellphone footage of police brutality: a pervasive fear of governments’ and gun-wielders’ abilities to monitor civilians has given way to a world in which the masses monitor back.

From radical demands to prosaic realities

When I was a teenager, I owned an anarchist pamphlet in which the author boasted “I’ll see you on the front page of the last paper they ever print!” It’s no longer hard to imagine an end to the printing of newspapers—but, rather than a wild-eyed collapsitarian, the front page of the last paper will probably feature a calmly smiling tech bro. Several other anarchist-in-principle demands made by the 20th avant garde are being met by the anarchistic-in-practice culture of software and hacking: a “gift economy,” a more participatory world, etc.

Near-real-time etymology of contemporary slang

Now that so much of human communication is done via digital media that leave relatively accessible paper trails, we can trace the rapid evolution of linguistic meaning in near real-time. Particularly fascinating to me are a swath of contemporary slang terms that have evolved quickly from conveying their original, intended meanings to gaining wide adoption for “incorrect” meanings that effectively fill gaps in our ability to refer to contemporary phenomena.


From an unspecific insult, to referring to males whose efforts at social signalling outmatch their skill, to referring to males who resist romantic commitment and are disingenuous about their intentions; we now have a term for punishing hetero, cis, male sexual behavior patterns for perhaps the first time in history.

“Normcore” & “healthgoth”

“Normcore” was coined to refer to a tendency towards chameleonic shifting between sets of values and social norms, which is a subtle and fascinating idea. However, like “healthgoth,” which has a more modest beginning, both terms were rapidly coopted to refer to—and to some degree, to invent—mere manners of dress.

Intelligence: natural, artificial and otherwise

The most significant socio-economic dynamic of the Industrial Revolution was the substitution of human physical labor with mechanized automation; we’re entering a period in history in which human cognitive labor is being replaced by automation. The impact this shift will have on our world cannot be over-stated. What can we predict? What has happened already? And what can we do to bias coming changes towards a world that harbors sensitivity, thoughtfulness and creativity?

We’re already in The Matrix

Evolution of forms of life doesn’t look they way it’s usually portrayed in pop science fiction. That the artificial life-like systems that surpass us will look nearly indistinguishable from us is a laughably narcissistic fantasy. In this essay, I examine the notion that we are already minor participants in a superior and vastly more complex life-like system; that we are the Internet’s gut bacteria.

Art & software as modes of thought

I used to be a painter; now I write code. I find the practice of writing software (and software itself) to be intellectually and aesthetically rewarding in much the same way that I do art and art-making. The underlying connection, the facility of making meaning out of the stuff of human experience, is something that I find to be almost singularly profound—and weirdly underappreciated. These essays aim to exculpate the practice of software development from associations of pedantry and obscurantism and to celebrate its beauty.

Code is beautiful

“Select your gender from the menu: male or female.” A binary gender paradigm is easy to code and easy for an end-user to understand. It’s also wrong. The discrete distinctions we impose on the world to make it comprehensible also fail to capture the full splendor of lived experience. Writing code brings this dynamic into sharp focus.

The avant garde as poetry of incomprehensibility

Similar to the above, great art shows us that we don’t understand the things we pretend to understand for the sake of convenience.

The future of attention

We’re continually able to find new ways to extract more out of every available resource, except for one: human attention. Unlike e.g. energy and computational capacity, the supply of human attention is essentially fixed—but the demand for that attention will increase. There’s already a war among advertisers for your eyes and ears, clicks and scrolls, and it will only intensify. Further, as technology continues to make individuals more productive and skill-acquisition easier, firms will have less power and individuals will have more autonomy. I predict that the allocation of attention will be one of the Big Issues of the 21st century.

Irony, sincerity, bullshit and psychopathy: signal clarity in a noisy world

The efficacy of most systems depends on the integrity of the signals being passed around (human social life, capitalism, et al). It is often advantageous to individuals to ‘hack’ these systems by cheating, lying or being otherwise disingenuous. From psychopaths to the people who write Buzzfeed headlines, there’s a buck to be made hijacking our attempts at sincere communication. As we move to a world with fewer centralized authorities, how do we preserve the integrity of our interconnections?

Inane participation

We once thought that capitalism was forcing decadent, inane cultural forms down our throats; now that we have access to cultural participation and can do and say whatever we want, it seems that capitalism was actually giving us exactly what we wanted all along. So suddenly there’s a different question: how do we deal with getting too much of what we want?

Okay, that's it. I'm excited about these. If you'd like to find out when new essays are available and get other goodies, subscribe to the list.

Thanks, love you guys. XO