The internet kinda slapped this week. Highlights: the purpose of Newsweek, algorithmic time, Kanye’s year of the gospel, the things we forget about Hurricane Katrina, a history of American pain, the function of fiction, astrology’s metaphor, hard-shell tacos, overtourism, and death certificates for glaciers.
1. Columbia Journalism Review: Dropshipping journalism
I’m part of a group on Facebook called Previously Unsaid Sentences in Human History and it is not uncommon for Newsweek articles to frequently appear on its feed. I have to admit that it took me a while to figure out that Newsweek was an actual publication that reported news and not a satirical clickbait website like as The Onion.
Newsweek, like all other publications, is struggling with profitability. In search of profit, Newsweek forces its writers to write four stories a day, chasing clickbait articles whose numbers of unique views are tied to compensation. The publication is trying to stay relevant by “chasing cheap traffic from Google and from Facebook shares… but by doing so Newsweek is asphyxiating its own efforts to build a loyal readership.” Newsweek was once a reliable publication but now it “is selling off its own legacy while hoping that readers won’t notice.”
Over the past decade, we have been living by a new metric: algorithmic time. Governed by social media and search engines, algorithmic time flows through us primarily through smartphones—handheld devices that become organs, whose touchscreens are like an extension of our skin. Algorithmic time is compressed and that is why it “is so disorienting and why it bends your mind. Everything good, bad, and complicated flows through our phones… we operate inside a technological experience that moves forward and back, and pulls you with it.” On social media “you can find yourself wondering why you’re seeing this now — or knowing too well why it is so. You can feel amazing and awful — exult in and be repelled by life — in the space of seconds.”
3. NPR: Forgotten: The Things We Lost In Kanye’s Gospel Year
If you read this column regularly, you know that I am absolutely fascinated by Kanye West, mainly because he is obsequious to design. In this context, I consider the phenomenology of design and how contemporary society treats it as a divine realm—think about how people design their lives for social media to accrue likes and thus social status. As Kanye increasingly asserts his relationship to religion and Jesus (his gospel album JESUS IS KING came out on Friday) I wonder what, and who, he is trying to design.
In this article, Ashon Crawley posits that Kanye is using gospel music and religion to obscure politics, as well as his own esoteric history. This year, we forgot “that the gospel message doesn’t belong, like private property, to the Christians, because the message is not a narrative of ownership but one of loving relation against empire.” This “relegates Jesus, like these performances relegate the music, to style and skin color, rather than a disruption to practices of harm and exploitation and violence.”
4. Guernica: After the Storm
I was 7 when Hurricane Katrina hit. I remember the concern and anticipation leading up to landfall. I remember my mother, who has family in New Orleans, checking in on relatives. I remember watching the roof on the Superdome collapse on TV. Katrina was far away from me in Michigan, and everything was too abstract for me at that age to understand enough about it to feel something.
This is the first article I’ve read that made me feel something about Katrina. Maybe it is because I never really knew how big the storm was. Katrina was so catastrophic that “we forget how utterly strange she was as a storm.” Even though, by the time it hit land, the storm had weakened from a Category 5 to a Category 3 storm, “what Katrina sacrificed in strength, she more than made up for in size. At the time, she was the largest hurricane ever to hit the United States, affecting millions of people over approximately 90,000 square miles. And that was just in the short term.” Katrina covered the entire state of Mississippi.
What I also didn’t know until reading this article is that Katrina made landfall the day after the 5oth anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till. I didn’t know that “hurricanes start off the coast of Africa and gather strength as they cross the Atlantic, following almost exactly the route of slave ships.” Katrina showed the nation that “the climate crisis is covered in the fingerprints of slavery and Jim Crow and colonialism and genocide and patriarchy.” It is something many people still don’t want to see.
5. Oxford American: The Great American Press Release
This article is dense and poignant and complex. It is about the “history of pain” of being Black in America, about how “a Black child understands that the Constitution is a letter addressed to others.” I’m still thinking my way through this, and thinking my way through the issues it brings up in my day to day life. I don’t have much to say about this one right now, except that I’m working through it.
A friend who studies theater once told me that it is “a safe space to practice empathy.” This has become a phrase that I think about nearly every day, and something that I’m working through in my own practice. What is a safe space? And can we really have the conversations we need to have in a safe space? Some people replace safe with “brave” or “courageous,” but I’m not sure about those words either.
What I am sure of, at least momentarily, is what Zadie Smith addresses here: that fiction, in writing and other forms of art, is “’interpersonal voyeurism’ or ‘profound-other-fascination.'” Fiction writers are often accused of appropriation, taking on different identities for the sake of a story. Smith’s defense of fiction is not triumphant, but rather a question: “Do we know what fiction was? We think we know. In the process of turning from it, we’ve accused it of appropriation, colonization, delusion, vanity, naiveté, political and moral irresponsibility. We have found fiction wanting in myriad ways but rarely paused to wonder, or recall, what we once wanted from it—what theories of self-and-other it offered us, or why, for so long, those theories felt meaningful to so many.”
(Image: Lynette Yiadom Boakye)
7. New Yorker: Astrology in the Age of Uncertainty
I unabashedly love astrology and fully live up to the Millennial stereotype. Without hesitation, I ask people for their signs and share my birth chart. I wait up on Sunday nights to read my weekly horoscope from @poetastrologers. Like many Millennials who are into astrology, I don’t “see [a] contradiction between using astrology and believing in science.”
Astrology is no longer for “white ladies in muumuus decorated with stars”; it’s for anyone, and especially for memes. Astrology is a way of making sense of a chaotic universe and in an increasingly uncertain world, it is one of the reasons people are drawn to the practice. Astrology is a metaphor, and as Alex Dimitrov describes, “it’s about negative capability… to endure doubt is ultimately the only thing you can do in life—to not strive for meaning or answers, and to endure the state you’re in.”
8. Mel Magazine: An Oral History of Hard-Shell Tacos
I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a hard-shell taco. That is probably because I can’t remember the last time I went to Taco Bell. While hard-shell tacos are now thought of in reference to Taco Bell in the US, the first tacos in the US “were all hard shell tacos,” and there is no single creator of the food. In fact, there were no written recipes for tacos, either here or in Mexico, until around the 1890s. But the history of manufacturing hard shells for mass-marketing is a little more straightforward, and that story begins not with Taco Bell founder Glen Bell, but George Ashley of Absolute Mexican Food who sold “metal taco molds for making your own taco kits at home.”
I’ve been to Iceland twice: once in 2013 and once in 2018. The first time was just at the beginning of the exponential rise of tourism to the country. Last year was just as that growth was stalling out. I enjoyed my 2013 trip more, mostly because it did not feel as commodified as it now does. If I go back to Iceland, it won’t be for another 5-10 years.
In the age of social media, traveling has become ever more political and competitive. People clamor to places that are “still semi-obscure in order to cash in [on] cultural capital.” Iceland might be the perfect example of overtourism, when tourism “changes the quality of life for people who actually live there.” But it is hardly the only place. Today, “where we go and how we get there are increasingly influenced by a series of digital platforms… that prioritize engagement over originality. Overtourism is a consequence, not a cause.”
10. The New Yorker: How to Mourn a Glacier
The natural world is changing—disappearing—at an unprecedented rate. Today “we are witnessing geologic time collapse on a human scale.” Animals are becoming endangered and going extinct. Forests are burning. Deserts are expanding. Oceans are rising. Glaciers are melting. The language around glaciers makes them seem alive: They “’crawl’ and have ‘toes’; when they break off at the ablation edge, they are said to have ‘calved.’ They are born and die—the latter at increasing rates, especially during ‘the great thaw’ of the past twenty years.” Geologist Oddur Sigurðsson, mourning the death of the Okjökull glacier, filled out a certificate—”it is unusual for a glaciologist to fill out a death certificate, but something concrete, like a piece of paper or a plaque, helps to make clear that the loss is irreversible.” In the next 200 years, all of Iceland’s glaciers are expected to die.
*All images taken from reference articles*
Have a suggestion for next week? Email [email protected] with the subject line “The Internet is Exploding.”