Our Diminished Utopianism

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1. Astra Taylor's new book on what happened to the Internet, The People's Platform, looks really good.

"I was struck by how ours is a diminished utopianism. It wasn’t that we would use these machines to free us from labor; it was that now in our stolen minutes after work we can go online and be on social media. How did it come to this, that’s that all we can hope for? And the answer is in how the economy has been reshaped by neoliberalism or whatever you want to call it over the last few decades.

+ The book itself.

 

2. The Wall Street Journal says Square keeps losing more money—and their path to profitability is not clear.

"Square's square-shaped credit-card readers are used by nearly one million merchants, who attach them to their smartphones or tablets, allowing them to accept credit or debit-card payments anywhere. Last year, the startup processed more than $20 billion in transactions, yielding revenue of about $550 million, according to three people familiar with the company's performance. But Square's business yields razor-thin profit margins, if any. Square typically charges merchants 2.75% to swipe credit cards through its reader, according to the company's website. About four-fifths of that money is spent on fees to payment networks like Visa and MasterCard, other financial intermediaries and fraud costs."

 

3. A most excellent premise for a novel.

"In Parasite, Mira Grant imagines a near future in which genetically modified tapeworms are a universal health-care solution. Once implanted, the worm provides immune-system support, making its human host healthy for the duration of its life — though like any good piece of commodified progress, the worms have planned obsolescence and need to be replaced regularly."

+ The non-fiction version.

 

4. The history of randomized control trials.

"'Let us take out of the Hospitals, out of the Camps, or from elsewhere, 200 or 500 poor People, that have Fevers, Pleurisies, etc. Let us divide them in halfes, let us cast lots, that one half of them may fall to my share, and the other to yours; I will cure them without bloodletting… we shall see how many Funerals both of us shall have.'"

 

5. Taking urban ecological habitats seriously. For example:

"The chain-link fence is one of the more specialized habitats of the urban environment. They provide plants — especially vines — with a convenient trellis to spread out on and a measure of protection from the predation of maintenance crews. Chain-link fences also provide 'safe sites' for the germination of seeds, a manifestation of which are the straight lines of spontaneous urban trees that one commonly finds in cities, long after the fence that protected the trees is gone. Root suckering species such as Ailanthus grow particularly well along chain-link fence lines."

 

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

bear (market), bearish, with reference to the stock market, came into use in the 18th c.: a bearskin jobber, presumably suggested by the saying, 'to sell the bearskin before one has caught the bear.'

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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