There’s tension between at least two of the following works. I finally got around to reading Andrew Rice’s brilliant profile of Jonah Peretti, which details the cynical gamesmanship Buzzfeed uses to promote a poorly-differentiated soup of memes, serious journalism and sponsored advertising. And Steve Kandell, whose sister died in the World Trade Tower attacks, criticizes the pageantry of the 9/11 Memorial Museum and the culture associated with it — in an excellent article published by Buzzfeed. Many of the rest are culled from The Atlantic’s Slightly More Than 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism list. The Atlantic is pretty respectable by the standards of the day, but Rice drew attention to a tiff I barely focused on last year, when the site ran a sponsored fake-news story about the Church of Scientology, which it quickly pulled after heavy criticism.
Adam Green: A Pickpocket’s Tale. The New Yorker, 2013.
“When Robbins hits his stride, it starts to seem as if the only possible explanation is an ability to start and stop time. At the Rio, a man’s cell phone disappeared from his jacket and was replaced by a piece of fried chicken; the cigarettes from a pack in one man’s breast pocket materialized loose in the side pocket of another; a woman’s engagement ring vanished and reappeared attached to a key ring in her husband’s pants; a man’s driver’s license disappeared from his wallet and turned up inside a sealed bag of M&M’s in his wife’s purse.”
Alice Gregory: Mavericks. n+1, 2013.
“I’m struggling to remember the last time I had fun. People who do karaoke probably have fun in the way I’m imagining. As do, maybe, skeet shooters. Surfers definitely have fun in that way, the way going down a slide is fun when you’re a kid: anticipatory, goal-oriented, breath-altering. Some crude calculations reveal that I haven’t felt anything like that in at least six years, not since the last time I went surfing.”
David Raether: What It’s Like to Fail. Priceonomics, 2013.
“I was neither a drug addict nor an alcoholic, nor was I a criminal. But I had committed one of the more basic of American sins: I had failed.”
Andrew Rice: Does BuzzFeed Know the Secret? New York Magazine, 2013.
“‘Could you make a list of cute animals that gets 5 million views?’ [Paretti] snapped when I mentioned Graf’s comment that night at the bar. ‘It’s actually really hard.’ After a moment, he switched tracks: ‘It’s actually better for us if people don’t take us seriously.'”
Emily Witt: What Do You Desire? n+1, 2013.
“I overheard someone talking about his lunch at the Googleplex. “Quinoa cranberry pilaf,” I wrote down. And then, “coregasm.” Because that was the subsequent topic of discussion: women who have spontaneous orgasms during yoga. The barista was saying how wonderful it was that the issue was receiving attention, coregasms being something a lot of women experienced and were frightened to talk about. Those days were over.”
Steve Kandell: The Worst Day Of My Life Is Now New York’s Hottest Tourist Attraction. Buzzfeed, 2014.
“By the time I finally reach the gift shop, the indignation I’ve been counting on just isn’t there. I stare at the $39 hoodies and the rescue vests for dogs and the earrings and the scarves and the United We Stand wool blankets waiting for that rush and can’t muster so much as a sigh. The events of the day have already been exploited and sold in ways previously incomprehensible, why get mad at a commemorative T-shirt now?”
David Kushner: The Six Seconds Between Love and Hate: A Vine Romance Gone Wrong. Rolling Stone, 2014.
“Last summer, they became Vine’s first reality stars, courting each other so publicly it was hard to believe it wasn’t staged. As their online romance unfolded in daily updates, it became the biggest story Vine had ever seen, spawning countless hashtags, video tributes and talk of a reality show. When the couple Vined their plans to meet in New York, some 2,000 screaming fans mobbed Washington Square Park to watch their first kiss. But the fairy-tale romance quickly became a nightmare.”
Gideon Lewis-Kraus: No Exit: One Startup’s Struggle to Survive the Silicon Valley Gold Rush. WIRED, 2014.
This is one of the best things I’ve ever read about the manic self-delusion of startup culture — and how the naivete of Mark Zuckerberg wannabes is exploited by several huge companies. There is a slightly extended version of this story available on Amazon as an e-book, which I haven’t read yet but certainly will.
Greg Miller: Electrify Your Mind. WIRED, 2014.
“It’s a rare thing for a scientist to stand up in front of a roomful of his peers and rip apart a study from his own lab. But that’s exactly what Vincent Walsh did in September at a symposium on brain stimulation at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain… ‘It doesn’t show what we said it shows; it doesn’t show what people think it shows,’ Walsh said before launching into a dissection of his paper’s flaws. They ranged from the technical (guesswork about whether parts of the brain are being excited or inhibited) to the practical (a modest effect with questionable impact on any actual learning outside the lab). When he finished this devastating critique, he tore into two more studies from other high-profile labs. And the problems aren’t limited to these few papers, Walsh said, they’re endemic in this whole subfield of neuroscience.”
Natasha Singer: Never Forgetting a Face. The New York Times, 2014.
“The police scanned tens of thousands of fans without their awareness, identifying a handful of petty criminals, but no one was detained. Journalists coined it the ‘Snooper Bowl.'”
Jason Tanz: How Airbnb and Lyft Finally Got Americans to Trust Each Other. WIRED, 2014.
“Paolo says he’s never had a second thought about letting a stranger drive off with his vehicle, perhaps because he is ‘unreasonably trusting,’ as he describes himself. (Though not, apparently, trusting enough to let me publish his real name, which is not Paolo.)”