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The Best Technology Writing 2009

The Best Technology Writing 2009

Steven Johnson Editor
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Best Technology Writing 2009
    Book Description:

    "The ubiquity of the digital lifestyle has forced us to write and think about technology in a different way."-Steven Johnson

    In his Introduction to this beautifully curated collection of essays, Steven Johnson heralds the arrival of a new generation of technology writing. Whether it is Nicholas Carr worrying that Google is making us stupid, Dana Goodyear chronicling the rise of the cellphone novel, Andrew Sullivan explaining the rewards of blogging, Dalton Conley lamenting the sprawling nature of work in the information age, or Clay Shirky marveling at the "cognitive surplus" unleashed by the decline of the TV sitcom, this new generation does not waste time speculating about the future. Its attitude seems to be: Who needs the future? The present is plenty interesting on its own.

    Packed with sparkling essays culled from print and online publications,The Best Technology Writing 2009announces a fresh brand of technology journalism, deeply immersed in the fascinating complexity of digital life.

    The Best Technology Writing 2009includes essays written by:Julian DibbellDana GoodyearFarhad ManjooDavid TalbotAndrew SullivanRobin McKieDalton ConleyNicholas CarrThe Oniondanah boydJoshua DavisClive ThompsonElizabeth KolbertDan HillSharon WeinbergerKevin KellyLuke O'BrienAdam Stermbergh

    and Clay Shirky

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15650-8
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)
    Steven Johnson

    The most striking thing about the best technology writing of 2009 is how little of it focuses on the future. Since at least the dawn of the digital age, futurists have had the most prominent voices in the tech commentary choir. Their refrain has been:this is where we are today; now imagine what it’ll be like ten years onor fifty. But most of the writing included in this volume is grounded squarely in the present. The tacit consensus among the essays you’re about to read seems to be:who needs the future? The present is plenty interesting on...

  4. Mutilated Furries, Flying Phalluses: Put the Blame on Griefers, the Sociopaths of the Virtual World
    (pp. 9-19)
    Julian Dibbell

    The Albion Park section of Second Life is generally a quiet place, a haven of whispering fir trees and babbling brooks set aside for those who “need to be alone to think, or want to chat privately.” But shortly after 5 pm Eastern time on November 16, an avatar appeared in the 3-D-graphical skies above this online sanctuary and proceeded to unleash a mass of undiluted digital jackassery. The avatar, whom witnesses would describe as an African-American male clad head to toe in gleaming red battle armor, detonated a device that instantly filled the air with 30-foot-wide tumbling blue cubes...

  5. I ♥ Novels
    (pp. 20-38)
    Dana Goodyear

    Mone was depressed. It was the winter of 2006, and she was twenty-one, a onetime beauty-school student and a college dropout. She had recently married, and her husband, whom she had known since childhood, was still in school in Tokyo. Thinking that a change might help, she went to stay with her mother, in the country town where she had grown up. Back in her old bedroom, she nursed her malaise, and for weeks she barely left the house. “I’d light a match and see how long it would burn, if you know what I mean,” she says. One day...

  6. The Death of Planned Obsolescence
    (pp. 39-43)
    Farhad Manjoo

    In 2005, a Southern California start-up named Sonos put out a multiroom digital music system, a gadget that sounds straightforward but was actually ahead of its time. Back then, music had already gone digital, but most digital players were meant to be used on the go, not at home. If the iPod is the modern version of the Walkman, Sonos is the reincarnation of the home stereo. It uses wireless networks to string together small “ZonePlayers,” stand-alone devices that pipe stereo-quality sound to different rooms in your house. You control the Sonos through a Wi-Fi remote that sports a big...

  7. How Obama Really Did It
    (pp. 44-55)
    David Talbot

    Joe Trippi, Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign manager and Internet impresario, describes Super Tuesday II—the March 4 primaries in Texas, Ohio, Vermont, and Rhode Island—as the moment Barack Obama used social technology to decisive effect. The day’s largest hoard of delegates would be contested in Texas, where a strong showing would require exceptional discipline and voter-education efforts. In Texas, Democrats vote first at the polls and then, if they choose, again at caucuses after the polls close. The caucuses award one-third of the Democratic delegates.

    Hillary Clinton’s camp had about 20,000 volunteers at work in Texas. But in...

  8. Why I Blog
    (pp. 56-72)
    Andrew Sullivan

    The word blog is a conflation of two words: Web and log. It contains in its four letters a concise and accurate self-description: it is a log of thoughts and writing posted publicly on the World Wide Web. In the monosyllabic vernacular of the Internet, Web log soon became the word blog.

    This form of instant and global self-publishing, made possible by technology widely available only for the past decade or so, allows for no retroactive editing (apart from fixing minor typos or small glitches) and removes from the act of writing any considered or lengthy review. It is the...

  9. Isle of Plenty
    (pp. 73-80)
    Robin McKie

    Jorgen Tranberg looks a farmer to his roots: grubby blue overalls, crumpled T-shirt and crinkled, weather-beaten features. His laconic manner, blond hair and black clogs also reveal his Scandinavian origins. Jorgen farms at Norreskifte on Samso, a Danish island famed for its rich, sweet strawberries and delicately flavoured early potatoes. This place is steeped in history—the Vikings built ships and constructed canals here—while modern residents of Copenhagen own dozens of the island’s finer houses.

    But Samso has recently undergone a remarkable transformation, one that has given it an unexpected global importance and international technological standing. Although members of...

  10. Rich Man’s Burden
    (pp. 81-83)
    Dalton Conley

    For many American professionals, the Labor Day holiday yesterday probably wasn’t as relaxing as they had hoped. They didn’t go into the office, but they were still working. As much as they may truly have wanted to focus on time with their children, their spouses or their friends, they were unable to turn off their Black Berrys, their laptops and their work-oriented brains.

    Americans working on holidays is not a new phenomenon: we have long been an industrious folk. A hundred years ago the German sociologist Max Weber described what he called the Protestant ethic. This was a religious imperative...

  11. Is Google Making Us Stupid?
    (pp. 84-97)
    Nicholas Carr

    “Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?” So the supercomputer HAL pleads with the implacable astronaut Dave Bowman in a famous and weirdly poignant scene toward the end of Stanley Kubrick’s2001: A Space Odyssey. Bowman, having nearly been sent to a deep-space death by the malfunctioning machine, is calmly, coldly disconnecting the memory circuits that control its artificial brain. “Dave, my mind is going,” HAL says, forlornly. “I can feel it. I can feel it.”

    I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has...

  12. Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book
    (pp. 98-100)
    The Onion

    Greenwood, in—Sitting in a quiet downtown diner, local hospital administrator Philip Meyer looks as normal and well-adjusted as can be. Yet, there’s more to this 27-year-old than first meets the eye: Meyer has recently finished reading a book.

    Yes, the whole thing.

    “It was great,” said the peculiar Indiana native, who, despite owning a television set and having an active social life, read every single page ofTo Kill a Mockingbirdby Harper Lee. “Especially the way things came together for Scout in the end. Very good.”

    Meyer, who never once jumped ahead to see what would happen and...

  13. Reflections on Lori Drew, Bullying, and Strategies for Helping Kids
    (pp. 101-106)
    danah boyd

    The involvement of Lori Drew (an adult) in the suicide of Megan Meier has been an unavoidable topic. Last week, Drew was tried on three counts of accessing computers without authorization, a legal statute meant to stop hackers. She was acquitted of all felonies but convicted of three misdemeanors. The lawsuit itself was misdirected and clearly the result of prosecutors wanting to get her by any means possible. But in focusing on the technology, the prosecutors reinforced the problematic view that technology was responsible for this atrocity.

    Let’s be clear. Megan Meier’s suicide is a tragedy. The fact that it...

  14. Secret Geek A-Team Hacks Back, Defends Worldwide Web
    (pp. 107-119)
    Joshua Davis

    In June 2005, a balding, slightly overweight, perpetually T-shirt-clad 26-year-old computer consultant named Dan Kaminsky decided to get in shape. He began by scanning the Internet for workout tips and read that five minutes of sprinting was the equivalent of a half-hour jog. This seemed like a great shortcut—an elegant exercise hack—so he bought some running shoes at the nearest Niketown. That same afternoon, he laced up his new kicks and burst out the front door of his Seattle apartment building for his first five-minute workout. He took a few strides, slipped on a concrete ramp and crashed...

  15. Brave New World of Digital Intimacy
    (pp. 120-136)
    Clive Thompson

    Zuckerberg, a doe-eyed 24-year-old C.E.O., founded Facebook in his dorm room at Harvard two years earlier, and the site quickly amassed nine million users. By 2006, students were posting heaps of personal details onto their Facebook pages, including lists of their favorite TV shows, whether they were dating (and whom), what music they had in rotation and the various ad hoc “groups” they had joined (like “Sex and the City” Lovers). All day long, they’d post “status” notes explaining their moods—“hating Monday,” “skipping class b/c i’m hung over.” After each party, they’d stagger home to the dorm and upload...

  16. Dymaxion Man
    (pp. 137-148)
    Elizabeth Kolbert

    One of Buckminster Fuller’s earliest inventions was a car shaped like a blimp. The car had three wheels—two up front, one in the back—and a periscope instead of a rear window. Owing to its unusual design, it could be maneuvered into a parking space nose first and could execute a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn so tightly that it would end up practically where it had started, facing the opposite direction. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, where the car was introduced in the summer of 1933, it caused such a sensation that gridlock followed, and anxious drivers implored Fuller to keep it off...

  17. The Street as Platform
    (pp. 149-162)
    Dan Hill

    Imagine a film of a normal street right now, a relatively busy crossroads at 9AM taken from a vantage point high above the street, looking down at an angle as if from a CCTV camera. We can see several buildings, a dozen cars, and quite a few people, pavements dotted with street furniture.

    Freeze the frame, and scrub the film backwards and forwards a little, observing the physical activity on the street. What can’t we see?

    We can’t see how the street is immersed in a twitching, pulsing cloud of data. This is over and above the well-established electromagnetic radiation...

  18. Can You Spot the Chinese Nuclear Sub?
    (pp. 163-175)
    Sharon Weinberger

    In a generic-looking glass and concrete office building just a few miles from Washington Dulles International Airport, an independent company is—with the full blessing of the government—helping to peel away the last earthly vestiges of cold war secrecy. Unlike Beltway defense companies, where security often starts at the ground floor with guards and gates, GeoEye, one of two U.S. companies selling commercial satellite imagery (the other is DigitalGlobe), is notably open-door until you reach the fourth-floor offices, where a friendly secretary asks, apologetically, whether the visitor is a U.S. citizen.

    Inside the company’s headquarters, GeoEye vice president Mark...

  19. Becoming Screen Literate
    (pp. 176-187)
    Kevin Kelly

    Everywhere we look, we see screens. The other day I watched clips from a movie as I pumped gas into my car. The other night I saw a movie on the backseat of a plane. We will watch anywhere. Screens playing video pop up in the most unexpected places—like A.T.M. machines and supermarket checkout lines and tiny phones; some movie fans watch entire films in between calls. These ever-present screens have created an audience for very short moving pictures, as brief as three minutes, while cheap digital creation tools have empowered a new generation of filmmakers, who are rapidly...

  20. Spore’s Intelligent Designer
    (pp. 188-194)
    Luke O’Brien

    Game designer Will Wright has never been one for half measures. Wright’s first hit, SimCity, released in 1989, set out to model the complexities of urban planning. Two decades later, he’s moved on to a grander project. Wright’s latest endeavor, Spore, tackles nothing less than life itself. You start with a single cell. Play long enough, and you’ll evolve into an entire spacefaring society.

    Transforming a blob of protozoa into a flock of Yuri Gagarins feels like a duty reserved for the almighty or, perhaps, epochal time. But it’s nothing new for Wright. In the early 1990s, he released SimEarth...

  21. The Spreadsheet Psychic
    (pp. 195-210)
    Adam Sternbergh

    In a month when the Dow had its worst single-day plunge in over twenty years, when Lehman imploded, AIG faltered, and WaMu failed, when the wordcrisisbecame an everyday staple in newspaper headlines and the presidential race pulled close, then pulled apart, when the Chicago Cubs kicked off a playoff quest to win their first championship in 100 years (then got swept out in three straight games) and, for good measure, some scientists in an underground lab near the Swiss Alps fired up a Large Hadron Collider that some serious observers warned might create a black hole that would...

  22. Gin, Television, and Cognitive Surplus
    (pp. 211-218)
    Clay Shirky

    I was recently reminded of some reading I did in college, way back in the last century, by a British historian who was arguing that the critical technology for the early phase of the industrial revolution was gin. The transformation from rural to urban life was so sudden, and so wrenching, that the only thing society could do to manage was to drink itself into a stupor for a generation. The stories from that era are amazing—there were gin pushcarts working their way through the streets of London.

    And it wasn’t until society woke up from that collective bender...

  23. About the Contributors
    (pp. 219-222)
  24. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 223-224)