How U.S. Democracy Has Responded to Networked Culture

Three ways of looking at the NSA over the past decade
banksycctv_650.jpg
Street graffiti by graffiti artist Banksy is seen on a wall, next to a CCTV camera, in central London (Reuters)

Earlier this week, engineering professor Debbie Chachra tweeted a mini-syllabus:

Taken together, the three essays propose how American democracy has responded to the past decade of digital, networked culture. They all seek an answer to the question: How does American democracy -- a product of Enlightenment ideas, Industrial Revolution expansion, and 20th century infrastructure -- respond to the problems of networked democracy?

The three essays take three different forms. Tim Maly's is as much nonfictional think-aloud as it is fictional allegory, the tale and memories of a narrator vacationing in Ontario's cottage country. It ends by presenting the problem of the NSA in a way few others have proposed. (And, for all this complexity, it's readable in minutes.)

Quinn Norton's takes a sweeping view of recent history, fusing computer pods in dusty Iraqi desert, active and international Wikileaks chat rooms, and the Gotham-infused blog of writer-programmer Paul Ford into a single entity.

And the last piece, by Eldan Goldenberg, is a blog post about possible ways to respond to the NSA politically -- and, in a way, to US democracy as a whole. It is an prime piece of web writing, concerned with action, poetic when it needs to be, and bound to the work of other writers (including Maly, Norton, and The Atlantic's own Ta-Nehisi Coates). Goldenberg's post shows a mind at work, unafraid to situate itself like a constellation.

The effect is cumulative: The weirdness of Maly's tale is enveloped by history in the world Norton describes, a world which, in turned, Goldenberg navigates. The three works connect ideas I've been thinking about in politics, economics, history, and civics. You might want to read them.

Presented by

Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

The Blacksmith: A Short Film About Art Forged From Metal

"I'm exploiting the maximum of what you can ask a piece of metal to do."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

Video

The Rise of the Cat Tattoo

How a Brooklyn tattoo artist popularized the "cattoo"

More in Technology

Just In