FOUR HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE

From Henry Farrell‘s “Philip K. Dick and the Fake Humans.”

Standard utopias and standard dystopias are each perfect after their own particular fashion. We live somewhere queasier—a world in which technology is developing in ways that make it increasingly hard to distinguish human beings from artificial things. The world that the Internet and social media have created is less a system than an ecology, a proliferation of unexpected niches, and entities created and adapted to exploit them in deceptive ways. Vast commercial architectures are being colonized by quasi-autonomous parasites. Scammers have built algorithms to write fake books from scratch to sell on Amazon, compiling and modifying text from other books and online sources such as Wikipedia, to fool buyers or to take advantage of loopholes in Amazon’s compensation structure. Much of the world’s financial system is made out of bots—automated systems designed to continually probe markets for fleeting arbitrage opportunities. Less sophisticated programs plague online commerce systems such as eBay and Amazon, occasionally with extraordinary consequences, as when two warring bots bid the price of a biology book up to $23,698,655.93 (plus $3.99 shipping).

….

In his novels Dick was interested in seeing how people react when their reality starts to break down. A world in which the real commingles with the fake, so that no one can tell where the one ends and the other begins, is ripe for paranoia. The most toxic consequence of social media manipulation, whether by the Russian government or others, may have nothing to do with its success as propaganda. Instead, it is that it sows an existential distrust. People simply do not know what or who to believe anymore.

FOUR HUNDRED AND TWENTY FOUR

From Eugene Lim’s Dear Cyborgs.

“Childhood was hell but also paradise. In retrospect it was safe because we survived it. And so in it we were not yet destroyed or scarred or proven failures or dumb or worn-out or brokenhearted. And furthermore, the warmth of brotherhood never as cozy and pure as when the enemy surrounds…”

 

FOUR HUNDRED AND TWENTY THREE

From Jason Mark’s Satellites in the High Country

“When I think about wildness as a civic good, Thoreau’s famous dictum—”in wildness is the preservation of the world”—takes on yet another layer of meaning. Perhaps it was not written by Thoreau the naturalist or Thoreau the poet. Perhaps instead it was written by Thoreau the tax-resister, the philosopher, the dissident.”