Today’s NYT cover story by Kashmir Hill is a wild blockbuster from the heart of the dystopia
. Hill peels back the layers on a facial recognition app actively in use by law enforcement agencies that—right now and not at a vague handwavey point in the Black Mirror
future—can identify a person based on an image of their face, and pull up that person’s visual footprints across social, video, and even payment networks on demand. It’s the sort of tech that we presume exists in shadowy realms, and of course exists by default in all spy movies, but of the many fascinating things going on in this investigation, perhaps the most unsettling is just how mundane it all is. A not-so-smart entrepreneur in a WeWork office wheels his desk chair right on past the red line other companies wouldn’t, even though they easily could have, justifying it with the old Valley maxim that if a thing can
be built, somebody’s gonna, so you may as well be the one that profits.
Then cops buy it because why wouldn’t they, and there in the background, as always, lurks Peter Thiel. Meanwhile, by default, a poorly considered but no doubt properly secured database of all of this, including who’s being searched for and by whom, accumulates on some cloud server somewhere, probably owned by Amazon. “I’ve come to the conclusion that because information constantly increases, there’s never going to be privacy,”
one investor says in the story, washing his hands of what he hath wrought. Hoo boy.
Related: Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley
is out this week and, halfway through so far, it’s as good as we hoped. This Atlantic review nails what Wiener portrays so well
, the culture of “contented ignorance” that leads to… well… see above.
Over at The New Republic
, Lia Russell looks at the underside of that contented ignorance
—the state of the “growing underclass that does their shopping and drives their cars”, entrenched by the gig economy they’ve created and juiced with unimaginable amounts of fast-burning capital. You’ve read this setup before, for sure, but it’s interesting to look at how legislation like California’s new AB5 law—designed with an idealistic idea of fighting this exploitation but creating a new mountain of problems for almost everybody who has to work in the reality of contemporary gig-by-gig circumstance—is trying to put a lid on it.
Here in Toronto, friend of Buckslip Murray Whyte with one of the final pieces in the Guardian’s sadly departing Cities section, an elegiac account of our beloved neighbourhood of Parkdale
as it succumbs to the unstoppable forces of change that have hit over the last decade. It’s one thing for invoice-to-invoice newsletter writers whose landlords find spurious ways to evict them for $500/month rent rises (yes, we’re bitter), but another thing entirely for the Tibetan community that are its heart and soul. Oh, and don’t even get us started about Vegandale.
“Ok Guardian sorry I’m not OLD like YOU.”
In response, from the sort-of-anonymous person behind the Parkdale Life instagram account quoted in the article, another elegy, this time for the affordable chains in the neighbourhood that acted as de facto community centres, being driven out for the kind of shops that encourage laptops on tables, headphones on ears, and, well, not them
. Yep, if you live long enough, you go from protesting the very existence of McDonald’s, to lamenting the closure of one for the loss it means to the community. And both of these things can be true at once!
Ah look, can we just get one of these MUJI houses shipped to us
? We’ll just put it in a car park or something. We don’t mind.
The first thing we read in our nice MUJI house might be Kyle Chayka’s The Longing For Less,
which we’re very much looking forward to reading—Kyle’s particular view on the world is one that often ends up in this here email.
Its release has inspired a bunches of takes on minimalism this week, but the best we’ve read is this fantastic LitHub essay by Andru Okun
, hunting for meaning in minimalism with Chayka by way of Jenny Odell, Junichiro Tanizaki, Donald Judd, Big Bend, gentrification, and to make first part of this email far too neatly wrapped, Kashmir Hill.
“As a consumer driven aesthetic, contemporary minimalism seeks blankness. Perhaps this is best exemplified by our phones, so sleek and simple in appearance, yet undeniably dependent upon a complicated network of server farms, factories, and mining operations, referred to in Against Creativity as “a vast and growing ‘material’ infrastructure—one that is ravenous for resources.” This resource reliance speaks to the rarefied set of privileges that informs so much of modern day minimalism, an often specious form of renunciation dependent upon social capital and access. That freedom from stuff should even be the driving idea behind minimalism is equally illusory.”