Fossil Poetry #5: Ping

In the last hours of 2018—or, if you’re elsewhere in the world, the early hours of 2019— we’re pinging you with a reflection on the plethora of pings. Happy New Year!

YL: A couple weeks ago, I found myself in a karaoke bar in Beijing, belting Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2012 hit “Call Me Maybe,” which I’ve always adored for its perfect blend of the coy and vulnerable (Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy/but here’s my number, so call me maybe.) That night however, I found myself thinking — yes Carly, you are crazy because who on earth would actually call a crush that they’d just met, these days?

Nobody calls in 2018, Carly. There are endless forms of communication that we can deploy to get somebody’s attention, much more efficient and tech-savvy than the archaic act of picking up the phone to call somebody. We text, like, comment, snap-streak, direct-message. Get with the times, Carly.

I’ve learned recently that we can also “ping.” For those not yet well-versed in the lingo, a “ping” is a virtual poke, typically sent as a reminder followed by chirpy exclamation point. I’ll ping you when I’m ready! Ping me if you have any questions! Originally referring to the sonar communication between submarines (one submarine will ping another, which will in turn echo back a ping to indicate its presence,) the ping has wheedled its way into the everyday lingo of young, corporate, start-ups. I’m not on Slack and I don’t work in the Bay Area, but if I did either, my days, I imagined would resound with a cacophony of pings.  

Like a gentle nudge, or the ringing of a miniature bell, the ping is casual, playful and low-stakes. You can do it anytime, anywhere. Ping me if you need anything at all! It suggests low commitment and infinite accessibility — the two pillars of digital communication in the 21st century. How much easier would it be for Carly’s Rae Jepsen’s crush to just ping her? Armed with the rapid-fire ping, crush can play coy without the vulnerability. I have a theory: perhaps if Carly had titled her track “Ping me, maybe,” or “Snap me, maybe” or even, “slide into my DMs, maybe,” she wouldn’t have had faded from the public eye so quickly — a one-hit wonder relegated to ash heap of karaoke bar nostalgia.

Look, I’m not the kind of person who’s gonna mourn the lost, prelapsarian days before the smartphone existed. I’m not a luddite; I’ll indulge in the ping. But I have to admit, I do miss the good, old-fashioned call. I miss postcards sent from afar and miss long, hand-written letters full of feels.  If the ping is a light poke to the shoulder, the long, hand-written letter — unabashedly vulnerable and sent into the world with no expectation of response — is like a deep-tissue back-massage, delivered by hand with love and care.

And I’m definitely a back-massage kind of person — the kind of person who, having just met you, might just write a long letter full of feels to you, maybe.

SH: I first learned about the possibility of “pinging” someone when my successful, business-savvy friend told me she would “ping” an editor to remind him about my long-ignored email. It felt like a revelation of sorts, or at least a window into a different world: one in which you can just ping someone important, like it’s no big deal, just ringing a gentle, efficient bell that gets their attention.

I am personally an email-agonizer. There is nothing that intimidates me more than trying to write the perfect three-line note to someone important. I regularly put off emails because writing good ones is for me no small feat. I’m jealous of people who can communicate so casually and effectively in the weird world of workplace-email that it’s a simple ping. Email sent, life continues. How nice would that be?

But there’s a part of me--the same part, maybe, that hates Gmail’s suggested replies and “nudges”--that doesn’t want to embrace the ping. To ping someone seems akin to sending them a notification, a routine communication that in its efficiency and brevity is almost divorced from human language: “Got it, thanks!” or “Just following up on this!” These phrases, functionally meaningless outside of the email-world, increasingly dominate my inbox and outbox. I know it often makes my life and others’ simpler, but I can’t help feel a little sad about the automation of our digital communication and our own increasing sense that we must ping, ping, ping, ping.

Reading and Writing:

YL: I wrote three totally unrelated pieces — this non-fiction essay (from my college creative writing thesis) on the Taiwanese garbage trucks for Off Assignment, this review of the doc “People’s Republic of Desire” in The Economist, and this report on the rise of Shanghai’s biopharmaceutical hubs for STAT News. Reading Sarah Ruhl and Max Ritvo’s beautiful collection “Letters from Max: A Book of Friendship” (long letters full of feels! The first time I cried reading about soup) and “Composition and Sustainability: Teaching for a Threatened Generation,” a thoughtful guide to writing pedagogy lent by equally thoughtful high-school English teacher Mr. Peterson.


SH: I wrote a piece about being scammed for Popula, and another about mulled wine that’s really a meditation on all my friends breaking up. I wrote for the Atlantic about my favorite, and least favorite, not-really-obsolete technology: the fax machine. And for The New Yorker, I wrote this weird little dispatch about why people are stacking so many stones, and how social media can have surprisingly planetary impacts. I read The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling, and I was very, very glad that I did.

Fossil Poetry #4: Surfing

We’re back. On a nerve-wracking, nail-biting and cold November day in the United States, we have a small bit of nostalgia for summer and the early internet to offer you: meditations on surfing the web.

“Monk by the Sea,” Caspar David Friedrich

Yi-Ling: To “surf” the web sounds antiquated when you say it aloud. Nostalgic, harking back to a bygone era of the early Internet — namely, the late 80s, when the phrase was first coined: the days of Atari, of the Whole Earth Catalogue, of Silicon Valley hippies and a young Steve Jobs, backpacking through India without his signature turtleneck.

Then, to go online was to catch a wave off the Hawaiian coast — spontaneous, liberating and unpredictable — an act of exploration. To surf the net was to go with the flow, ride a current of clicks and see where it could take you.

Today, nobody “surfs” the net. Instead, we “scroll” and “swipe.” Both verbs that have entered our mainstream online lexicon feel swift, efficient and almost brutal in comparison to a meandering surf. Both are singular and one-directional. Nobody “surfs” Instagram. Your preferences are fed into an algorithm which fuels your endless feed. Nobody “surfs” Tinder; a swipe doesn’t yield a sea of multiple others. It is not exploration but elimination — a zero-sum game and binary judgement of the worth of another human being. Right or Left, Liked or Unliked, Yes or No.

We don’t surf because the ocean has been conquered and replaced by a handful of Olympic-sized swimming pools, owned by the swimming pool companies GAFAM in the United States and BAT in China. (I’ll let you figure out the acronyms.) Don’t get me wrong, they’re really nice swimming pools — orderly, efficient, free of charge and much easier to navigate than the vast Pacific. But the convenience and low costs come with a few caveats:

1) In order to use the pool, we have to share a lot of things about ourselves— pretty benign information like how old we are, who our friends are, what movies we like, our political leanings etc. (We like easy and we like cheap, so we hand it all over.)

2) The companies get to decide on the pool rules. (Although lately, the lifeguards have been floundering —  pool-goers all over the world shove each other, yell racial slurs and pee rather blatantly in the deep end. In China, Chinese lifeguards have become particularly overzealous, escorting swimmers out of the pool so that they are never seen again.)

We don’t surf because we’ve become trapped in the dangerous comfort of these pools. I miss the days of the great Pacific surf — shreddin’ the sea and rippin’ waves and hangin’ ten — even given the fact that I was quite horrendous at it. (Visual evidence, Bali circa 2009.) Sure, back then, surfing the early net was messy, unpredictable and chaotic. But back then, we were also free.

Sophie: It’s been a long time since I’ve surfed the web. Maybe it was back in the heyday of Geocities, when I was a young Sailor Moon superfan and I found myself breezing through fansites, no destination in mind. I just took it in. Surfing through early-stage HTML was a mostly-pleasant ride through gentle swells. It was just exciting enough to keep you clicking; there was the occasional nasty surprise, but mostly there was earnest fandom expressed in low-fi gifs and wild fonts; it ended with a defined log-off, the end of my designated computer time, the return to the ground of real life.

There is, for many of us, and in particular for me, very little defined real life anymore that’s separate from online life. My experience of the internet no longer bears any relation to catching a wave and riding it to an endpoint on the sand. In part because I’m an adult, but much more because of the rapid technological development of the last decade, there is no computer time and not-computer time. Of course, this is too bad.

But perhaps what I miss most about surfing was its randomness. What might you stumble upon, if you were just Googling for the hell of it, as I was? I was an early adopter of the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button on Google—a literal leap to a random website for your term. I have a distinct memory of clicking it when I Googled “Neptune” in first grade, and learning that the deep blue planet was also the Roman version of a Greek god.

There’s a way in which Twitter mimics the effect of surfing’s randomness, but it’s amplified to the point of becoming grotesque. And above all it’s too passive; on Twitter you scroll, rather than surfing, through the algorithm’s preferred methods of being. The closest I come to surfing these days is clicking through Wikipedia links, in moments of extreme boredom or procrastination, going down some rabbit hole that leads to knowledge of a certain sort, down a path I might not have expected. This is a form of surfing, but I’ll admit that it’s not as satisfying; I’m desensitized, and I’m seeking more stimulation than a gentle, pleasant ride.

Written and reading:

YL: wrote for The New Yorker about a rural farmer who rose to fame and fortune on Chinese live-streaming app Kuaishou. I’m watching People’s Republic of Desire, a documentary about another booming platform YY.com. (If you’re in NYC, it’s being released on Nov 30th.) Reading On the Noodle Road by Jen-Jin Liu, a food writer turned founder of Black Sesame Kitchen (where I now work as an assistant!) who chronicles the noodle from Beijing to Rome Still hunkering carefully through Martin Buber’s I and Thou. Listening to this conversation between Michael Pollan and Sam Harris on the future of psychedelic drug use — in clinical practice, end-of-life care, and just to get some ego-less perspective.

SH: I wrote an essay about the horrors of the New Gmail for The Baffler, and about Bob Dylan’s drawings for The Economist. I also wrote about the catharsis and complexities of rage rooms--and in case you thought all I did was critique, I wrote about the marvelous trash of Amsterdam for The New York Times! I’ve been on a tear through Sally Rooney’s two novels, Normal People and Conversations with Friends, and finished the slow-and-agonizing-but-wonderful Outline trilogy by Rachel Cusk.

Fossil Poetry #3: Cloud/Ecosystem

We’re back again with our third edition of Fossil Poetry! This time taking on two different words: Sophie takes us upwards with “Cloud” and Yi-Ling delves into the weeds with “Ecosystem.”

"Book from the Ground,” by Xu Bing

Yi-Ling (Ecosystem):

When I think of the word “ecosystem,” the first image that comes to mind is a lake in the woods — swampy, rich with algae, duckweed and all kinds of strange creatures trying to live together.

Ecosystem implies a shared space and interdependence; it derives from the Greek word oikos, meaning “home.” It was no surprise that I was fascinated by the word in college (so fascinated that I wrote an entire teary-eyed commencement column of the same title.) Campus was an enclosed lake —  a messy and fluid swimmy-web of connections, —with everyone densely linked by one degree of separation. “What does your social ecosystem look like?” I used to ask people all the time. Or in other words: Where is your lake in the woods? Or: Where do you belong?

More than a year later, I find myself taking a dip in a lake and figuring out my place in a much larger ecosystem on the opposite end of the world. And here, in Beijing, China, the word has been repurposed for a drastically different context — the landscape of the Chinese internet.

Digital eco-system. Start-up ecosystem. Venture capital eco-system. I might roll my eyes at the next person who extols the virtues of WeChat as a giant, integrated ecosystem. But it’s true, you can do everything on the app, i.e. message people, split the bill and hail a cab but also rent a house, book a karaoke session and get divorced. To friends who have never visited the country, I like to show this NYT video, which animates Chinese cyberspace as — surprise, surprise — a swamp.

The Chinese Internet is an enclosed ecosystem, operating by its own murky rules, opaque to the rest of the world. And the opacity is a problem, because within the Great Firewall, nearly 700 million Chinese netizens are interacting on a handful of platforms, churning out data — algorithmic fuel and fodder for technologies we haven’t even begun to understand. If you’re worried about the power of Google, Amazon and Facebook, start thinking about the trio of domestically-nurtured swamp monsters — Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent — that will unsettle the global Internet ecosystem in more unpredictable ways.

And those who do know about Chinese cyberspace, understand it through one of two narratives: 1) The story of a China rising. (Ripe for innovation, the country is a goldmine of shiny gems for aspiring VCs to monetise.) 2) The story of a China as Black-Mirror-esque wasteland (the Big Bad authorities and its oppressed citizens on its way to doomsday.)  

Both narratives speak in cold numbers, emphasise the monolithic and overlook the particular. They ignore the funky outgrowths: blockchain chickens and the shared basketballs, the countless stories of rural farmers live-streaming their stock to earn extra cash and the aspiring writers launched into fame via serialised online novels.

They suck the humanity out of it all, leaving behind the bed of a lake — dry, barren and devoid of life — when the reality could not be further from the truth.

Sophie (Cloud):

My iCloud storage has run out; my phone keeps reminding me to buy more. I already own a chunk of iCloud but I feel resentful about the idea of buying more space to store photos I don’t really need but can’t bear deleting, and apps I barely use.

What is The Cloud? It’s easy to forget. Something about the word for it allows it to retain a kind of mystique. It sounds extraterrestrial, nebulous, immaterial. It sounds like a dreamy concept, because clouds themselves are dreamy. Cirrus, nimbus, cumulus, stratus—these are words from a middle school science exam that still hold a kind of wonder. They have nothing to do with The Cloud.

In fact, cloud computing is earth-bound, tied to software and servers, often provided as a consumer service by giant companies. It is a way of accessing your data on any device, often using a web browser. Clouds are not free-floating; they’re often sold to you in little pieces, like physical storage space.

The tension between The Cloud, the idea, and clouds in practice—the iCloud, for instance—is related to some of the failed promises of the internet, or at least how it has failed to meet our great expectations. We want to believe in the boundless freedom of the world wide web, a kind of Wild West of open digital space. This is not the reality; it is, like the actual West, much more complicated. It is divided up; it is bought and sold; it is owned.


Writing and Reading

SH


I wrote for The New Yorker about the weird phenomenon of pop-up museums, and for Garage Magazine about video games as Art. And for Popula, I wrote about the social media app Nextdoor and vigilantism between neighbors. I’ve been reading Rachel Cusk’s Outline and Olivia Laing’s Crudo, and feeling weird resonances between the two.

YL

I wrote for Guernica Magazine on Chengdu hip-hop artists navigating the Great Firewall, for Popula on navigating Beijing life and love (aka Tinder) with a Virtual Private Network, and for STAT News on the rise of genetic testing services in China. I’ve been reading Kai Fu Lee on the future of artificial intelligence in China, listening to this podcast featuring homie Chef Lucas Sin on the changing narrative of Chinese food. Also enjoying “Orlando” by the fav bae Virginia Woolf as well as “The Mysteries of Pittsburg” by new bae Michael Chabon.

Fossil Poetry #2: Disruption

Hello! Happy dog days of August. We’re back with Fossil Poetry, this time on the word “disruption” and breakage of all kinds.

“Highway 1 at Moon Lake” by John Chiara

Sophie: The word “disruption” is used so frequently in Silicon Valley that’s it’s almost a joke. Start-up founders are disrupting transportation, the art world, education, corner stores, religion, outer space. Disruption, in tech-speak, can be as simple as the introduction of a vending machine in the airport that sells Uniqlo vests. It can be as radical as the expansion of Amazon into grocery stores. Disruption means a plethora of scooters on streets, and it also means someone has raised a lot of venture capital money for an idea with no legs.

No facet of life immune to this kind of disruption, which tech-evangelists—and by extension capitalists—are optimistic about. I am a pessimist, in particular a techno-pessimist, but it doesn’t really matter because I can’t stop the rampant disrupting.

Every time I hear the word disruption, though, I think first of protest art. I think of the Guerilla Girls, and the posters they put around New York City in the 1980s: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 5 % of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women but 85% of the nudes are female?” They published list of names of male artists—Richard Serra, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, the usual suspects—who allowed their work to be shown in galleries where women weren’t represented. It was a little embarrassing, and ugly, and effective, and it was above all else a disruption.

A disruption, in its purest sense, is a kind of break—a radical rupture from some sort of established order. Good art, and not just protest art, often has disruptive properties. It interrupts expectations, reality, the monotony and routine of daily living. It is this kind of disruption that interests me most: the psychological, social, cultural, disruptive powers of art. About this kind of disruption, I’m an optimist.

**

Yi-Ling: At some point between now and when I created my first Facebook profile, it became cool to move fast and break things. The word disruption — from the Latin word disruptionem (to break apart, split, shatter, break to pieces) — became hot.

Once a word that described war, corruption and the schism within the Church of Scotland in 1843, disruption became a word that rolled off the tongues of young tech savants to describe Uber, Netflix and Airbnb. On a stroll in Paris, Travis found a hole in the taxi cab system and disrupted the way we travel from a to b. In his Harvard dormitory, Zuck figured out that we, as humans, are ridiculously social creatures that devour gossip like candy and disrupted the way we present ourselves, read the news, vote, buy stuff, fall in love — all that good, important stuff.

Now, disruption has become a pretty standard way of thinking for the rest of us plebs. Throw out the old institutions and unlearn old ways of thinking. Don’t study diligently through college, climb your way up the rusty corporate ladder, and stew in your own regret as a jaded, grey-haired executive. Instead, drop out of Stanford, befriend an angel investor and overturn the future of cold brew consumption in The Mission. Disrupt. Look for the short-cut. Sprint. Deploy or die. The world is a giant game of Jenga, and you, young millennial, with or without your newly-minted diploma, can come in like a wrecking ball, and break it all apart.

Here’s my main problem with disruption as a guiding principle: after spending so much time preaching the importance of breaking things, we’ve neglected figuring out what to do next. I’ve found, for example, that American liberal arts colleges do a great job teaching its students the first part — how to deconstruct texts, dismantle old institutional structures and challenge existing value systems. It does a less ideal job teaching us the more challenging Part Two. In other words: what the heck do you do with all the broken pieces?

Last May, after graduating from college, I spent two months in the hills of Burgundy, France and the forests of Chiba, Japan, designing two GAKKO summer camps with a group of young professionals and high-schoolers around the world. I returned this summer to direct a camp in the Berkshires.

In many ways, summer camp was about disrupting the education system. It was a blank slate outside of the traditional schooling institutions, an opportunity to challenge old ways of learning. But it demanded more than just disruption. We needed not simply to challenge old values, but also to re-imagine new ones that we could collectively believe in. To build a world and create community where none had existed before. To take lofty, fragmented ideals and weave them into actionable slots on a two-week schedule.

It was one of the most intellectually, personally, physically challenging experiences that I’ve done in my life. On any given moment, questions running through my mind included: 1) how do we devise a schedule that ensures the collective ownership of 14 young adults and 43 high-schoolers? 2) how do we orchestrate a day-long LARP session that involves bartering for tarp, fort-building in the woods dressed in full drag, and a Utopian Peace Conference? 3) Should we kill the chicken? 4) Who was in charge of getting the snacks? 5) Is this insane-looking rash on my left ribcage poison ivy?

It’s easy, I learned, to break things apart. But what does it mean to reassemble, re-imagine and reinvent?

**

Written and reading:

YL: I’m moving back to Beijing next week, and am currently working on a feature on the rise of genome testing in China. The article in Chengdu rappers navigating the Great Firewall is finally coming out in Guernica next week. Keep your eyes peeled. On the reading list: this WIRED piece on repeated self-invention by philosopher Yuval Noah Harari, The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis for his account of one of most beautiful and underrated collaborations of the century, Zadie Smith’s characteristically brilliant essay on Jewish philosopher Martin Buber/Justin Bieber, and Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman, because this dude has nailed the nuances of desire like no other. (Also, after months of hunting, I finally purchased a pair of shoes that look like these.)

SH: I’ve been writing about optimism and pessimism around technology! I wrote for The New York Times about a show in London that explores the future through objects, and I reviewed a book about how digital life is changing our reading brains, including mine. I also wrote about some analog things: the background music of New York City for The New York Times, the problems with the daily crime story and the weirdness of police tape for Popula, and the art of tabloid covers for New York Magazine. I read Sam Anderson’s Boom Town, a fascinating new history of Oklahoma City (trust me, it’s AMAZING) and am deep in Alice Bolin’s Dead Girls, about, well, dead girls in American culture.

Fossil Poetry: Bandwidth

“Ametsuchi” (2013) by Rinko Kawauchi

Hello! In case you don’t know us, we’re Yi-Ling Liu and Sophie Haigney and we’re starting a newsletter, called Fossil Poetry.

It will be about a lot of things: tech, art, travel, feelings (!), language. We’re fascinated by language, and so will focus each issue on one word, using them as provocations and jumping off-points for mini-essays. Some may deal directly with the words — their etymologies, they way they sound and feel and taste. Others may veer into new territory, inspired by the words as lenses into life.

We’ve borrowed our title from Emerson’s essay “The Poet.” He writes: “Language is fossil poetry. As limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes.” The meaning of words, like fossils, are always shedding their old associations and ossifying into new forms. This is particularly true in the language of the tech world, which we both write about, so this newsletter will focus on tech words — still evolving in meaning, still malleable and up for grabs.

We’ll also use the newsletter as a way to share some links to our work and work we like, far and wide. This is all an experiment, subject to change, so stay tuned.

Our inaugural edition: bandwidth.

**

Yi-Ling:

When we talk about our interior lives, we often talk of gaining energy and losing steam, of feeling gassed and switching gears. The metaphors that we use to describe our feelings draw, inevitably, from the technologies of our age. And to be honest, in the great scheme of history, we’ve been barely out of the industrial revolution.

But recently, a new word has popped into my emotional vocabulary: bandwidth. Now perched on a digital revolution, it’s only natural that I’ve co-opted the jargon of computing.

Bandwidth: Explicitly, it refers to the rate of data transfer. Metaphorically, it refers to the mental and emotional capacity to deal with a situation. i.e. Instead of not having the energy to listen to you complain about life’s inequities, I could say I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to hear about your relationship problems right now.

But unlike the word steam — messy and diaphanous and difficult to pin down — bandwidth is easily quantified, like figures on a heart-rate monitor, step-count on a Fitbit, calories logged on a nutrition app. Perhaps there’s a little device somewhere, smaller than the eye can see, implanted in one of the small capillaries of your heart, or lodged in the fleshy part of your amygdala. It processes all that raw gunk of emotion and churns it out as a neat string of numbers, easily whipped out when necessary to justify basically all of your emotional decisions.

A friend needs a shoulder to cry on? Sorry, you only have a bandwidth of 20hertz to deal with other people’s issues right now— maybe ask me next weekend, bud. An employer wants you to work a few extra hours because the company is overstaffed? No can do, you are operating at particularly low frequency today and need to allocate your emotional resources more prudently. A guy you’ve been going on dates with wants to enter the next stage of an intense relationship? You are going to have to check your bandwidth count —the last romance really depleted your stores.

Think of all that data, those numbers flickering on your bandwidth counter, figures on a stock market ticker. How does bandwidth fluctuate with the day, with the seasons, with the stage you are in, in life? Can you gauge the collective emotional bandwidth of an entire people? (what was that number, say, on November 8th, 2016, in the United States of America?) Can it be stretched like a rubber band, or does it stay within a fixed range forever? Is it a finite resource to be tapped into frugally and sparingly, or allegedly infinite, like that crazy thing they call unconditional love?  

**

Sophie:

My bandwidth has recently increased. Or rather, there are more free slices of time in my life, all of a sudden, or I’m filling them differently—which is a way of saying that I quit my job, moved out of my house on a hill in San Francisco, and am floating through the world, improvising again and living out of bags and boxes.

For the last nine-ish months, my schedule was rigid, regimented down to the minute. I woke up at 5:10—sometimes 5:15, 5:17, 5:19—and made it to my newspaper job by 6:00, occasionally 6:02. I had coffee and lunch and another coffee at the same times every day. I started to count down the minutes around 12:30. Then at 2:30, on the dot, I packed up. My afternoons were often rigorously scheduled, too—writing projects, job applications, drinks with a friend, planned phone calls—before a self-imposed bedtime, which I often failed to make.

I’ve never had a Google calendar, and I’ve always failed to update my paper ones, so I track my bands of time only in my head. But I do visualize my day that way: in strips of minutes, of varying width. I am trying now to break that habit.

Bandwidth—the technical term, though rarely how I use it—has to do with capacity. How much data a system can transfer, a fixed amount. So when I say my bandwidth has increased, I may not be exactly right. The capacity of my day is the same as it always was: 24 hours, plus the amount of energy I have, minus a series of inevitable tasks and obstacles, divided by what I choose to do with it. I have no new capacity.

But I am trying, maybe, to rid myself—at least for a little while, or as long as I am jobless and unanchored—of the sense that my day is a series of finite bands of minutes. Unstructured time has a way of feeling like more time, and my bandwidth, the undefined emotional kind, feels bigger, deeper, wider.

I feel a lot of things now: happy-sad, jetlagged, anxious, overjoyed. But most of all, maybe, I feel somehow more porous.

**

Written and reading:

SH: I wrote a strange little reflection for The Economist, on the subject of language, and creating new words for our terrible times, some thoughts about the use of tech in museums for The San Francisco Chronicle, and a piece about mini-utopias on display at MoMA. Here is a long, good story I liked about the concept of “privacy,” a squishy and confusing term that’s often ill-defined.

YL: I wrote a profile on a Chinese-American hip-hop artist Bohan Phoenix for the LA Review of Books. Another deep-dive on rappers navigating the Great Chinese Firewall will be coming out soon in Guernica Mag soon! Currently indulging in Elif Batuman’s novel “The Idiot,” after being utterly stunned by her piece on the Japanese “Rent-a-Family” industry.


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