Watching, a Review 📝⌚️

My standard pose in relationship to hardware technology is to let new hardware filter into the world around me before I decide if it appeals enough to adopt (software, on the other hand, is less of a commitment, and you can always uninstall if you don't like it). But when I received an email saying my watch package arrived, I rushed straight to the post office like a 2007 iBro, uncharacteristically excited to try the new Thing.

After I got through the package's many layers of bespoke paper and cellophane (I guess this is why Apple is buying a forest?), I found the watch, which is beautiful and eerily smooth. I wanted to put it on immediately. On my wrist it felt cool and reassuring, and my wrist suddenly looked more interesting~~ more dressed, like a platform for aesthetic statements. For a while I just let it sit there, without turning it on. Turned off, the face looks like a big, deep opal, like something you might use to scry in. 

After poking and pressing at the watch a bit I figured out how to turn it on, which took some mysterious amount of time, until suddenly things were happening in the deep opal pool that is its face. It asked me to set it up, which I did, and suddenly there we were: me and a watch that feels a little bit alive.

The liveness of the watch is noticeably different from the iPhone, which in comparison feels bounded and separate, like a book or an Ancient Greek tablet that draws your attention but doesn't interact with it. The watch interacts with you, surfacing things and pinging and even lightly shocking you when a call comes in. I had a small moment of claustrophobia when I received a call on the watch and felt the uncanniness of having a call coming from my wrist-- it was very cyborg-ish. Mostly I just poked and twirled at the watch, not trying to do anything in particular, and felt charmed every time some recognizable icon or action would appear, to be easily swiped away into the opalescent black pool. I looked up from where I was sitting and realized sort of sheepishly I was that person in San Francisco publicly trying a new Apple gadget just after its release. The watch feels very visible in that way: like you won't be able to wear one without it being noted. Even when turned off, it looks like a large rectangular gem set in a band, the opposite of casual, if still elegant.

The most compelling applications of the watch, so far, are simple: the upcoming calendar event appearing on the bottom of the clock, the temperature showing in the top right corner, and the text messages appearing just a wrist's tip away (more complex things like videos don't work~~ no watching Plies' Instagram videos 😂). It's nice to have an easily viewable command center that isn't lying deep in your bag. I wonder if the "command" aspect of the watch may be overplayed-- such as the commands to stand every hour that seem a bit much-- so I turned those off. But as a platform for other, lighter, less commanding things, it seems both useful and fun.

Back in the office, we finally tried the app we've been building for the past five months on the Watch for the first time, and it felt  ✨✨✨✨✨😃✨✨ , like exactly what we intended but somehow newer an experience than we planned. The entire experience of the watch so far feels new like this: like a new kind of new, not just an upgrade but some different ontology entirely, both unfamiliar and yet instantly intimate at the same time. As such there is less of a sense of a redundancy between the iPhone and the watch, as I had expected, and more of a sense of how intriguingly different technologies they are.

 

#scalewave

Super excited about having an essay in the upcoming Data Issue of Dis art magazine... will post a link when it launches.

2014 in Writing

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The main thing that motivates me to write in public is having a question about some cultural phenomenon that I want to produce an answer to. This year there were quite a few questions that I used essays to try to resolve, like: why did coffee shops suddenly turn into wood-shops? Why does media keep using the word 'brogrammer'? Why are brands getting so zany on Twitter? What is the connection between the voyeur-forward architecture of social media and the NSA's surveillance programs? Why do tech leaders keep talking about the magical future while ignoring issues in current startup culture? What's going on with Airbnb's new logo/house-sharing nation? Why are wearables so dorky and how will they need to change to be cool? Below is a list of writing I did in 2014 in response to these questions. I'm excited to see what questions I need to figure out in writing in 2015. 

A big ~~<3~~ to everyone who reads my writing.

The Male Gazed (Model View Culture)

Sex and the Startup (Model View Culture)

Speculum of the Other Brogrammer (Katelosse.tv)

Weird Corporate Twitter (The New Inquiry)

Tech Aesthetics (Aeon Magazine)

Facebook for Space? Airbnb's Weird Corporation Nationhood (Katelosse.tv)

What's in a Free Fjallraven Backpack (Katelosse.tv)

The Myth of Magical Futures (Katelosse.tv)

Silicon Valley Has a Fashion Problem (Style.com)

What Reclaimed Wood Meant (Katelosse.tv)

Finally, this essay I wrote in 2013 had many more readers in 2014, so I will include it here:

The Unbearable Whiteness of Breaking Things (Medium)

The Myth of Magical Futures

Despite its (now frequently mocked) claims to meritocracy, Silicon Valley loves its hierarchies. However, because these hierarchies often look somewhat different than old-time corporate ones, they are often opaque to outsiders looking in. My book The Boy Kings is among other things a diagram of hierarchy as it was architected at Facebook in Facebook’s early years, where the closer one was to a Mark-Zuckerberg-when-he-started-Facebook combination of age, race, and gender qualities the higher one was in the hierarchy (a hierarchy that appears not to have changed much given the industry's recently released diversity data). In the past year tech's particular version of hierarchy has been more widely acknowledged and critiqued, and thus we are now in the situation where people as powerful as Peter Thiel are being asked to comment on tech’s diversity and misogyny problems, as in yesterday’s Reddit Ask Me Anything interview with Thiel.

Peter Thiel’s answer to misogyny in tech was that we need more women founders, and this answer struck me as interesting on a number of levels, and also somewhat opaque to someone looking into this world from outside. Why women founders? On the one hand, the possibility that a woman founder would construct the hierarchy at her company differently than Mark Zuckerberg is compelling. On the other, the idea of women founders as a solution to tech misogyny also makes existing male founders and investors unaccountable for misogyny as it exists today. Thiel is saying that he and his funded companies are not responsible for the misogynist environments they themselves have built, and furthermore, that they can’t fix them-- only a woman founder can.

This is a problem, because the misogynist hierarchies that exist in tech today are not mystical outcomes, but very real products of the values of the people involved at the formation of a company, which are investors and founders. Investors and board members in addition to founders influence everything from how much equity goes to individual employees, to perks and play budgets (which often are not evenly distributed across the company), to the construction of departments, their relative importance, and the resources accordingly allocated to them. And not coincidentally the privileged departments, on this model, tend to be those occupied by people who look most like the founder and investors (at Facebook this was product engineering, which dominated other forms of engineering, which dominated non-engineering departments, which tended to have the largest degree of race and gender diversity).

But when Thiel is arguing for more women founders he isn’t just deflecting responsibility from himself and his fellow investors. He is also doing something else that I want to unpack: he is re-inscribing a form of hierarchical thinking that is part of the reason tech is such a mess regarding diversity. That is, when Thiel points to “more women founders” as a solution, he is asking women to become founders in order to possess a status that would allow Thiel to acknowledge women in tech at all. That is, all of the women who are currently working in tech, up and down the employee stack, many at companies that Thiel may be invested in, do not seem in Thiel’s formulation to really exist to him. They do not have a seat at the table. They are not acknowledged as agents of change, or as subjects of discrimination (for example, in the AMA, Thiel cited the Bay Area “housing crisis” as a worse problem than sexism in tech, not knowing that the housing crisis disproportionately affects women and people of color because of the wage discrimination marginalized people face at work).

That is, according to Thiel’s “women founders” logic, he can only imagine women as agents/subjects if they are the founder of a company. And this, in the end, is exactly why and how tech is such a diversity disaster: because there are so many ways powerful people in the industry have of ignoring that marginalized people are working at their companies and are experiencing multiple forms of discrimination right now. This is why many powerful people in tech can only conceive moves to “change” the industry in terms of magical futures like “more women founders” or “getting young girls to code”. The women working in the industry right now are being written off in favor of these magical futures, and as long as this is the case, the now of tech (whether the now is today or twenty years from today) will be unchanged.

This is why you should be skeptical whenever you see powerful men arguing for magical future outcomes in regard to diversity. Instead, ask what they can do right now to affect discrimination in their companies. For example, what are they doing to rectify across the board pay and equity discrepancies between men and women, or white men and people of color? What do their harassment policies look like? Investors like Peter Thiel directly influence these decisions at startups they fund (even if “influence” means “failing to advise founders to avoid discriminatory practices”, which is a form of influence). So when men like Thiel speak of magical futures, we should always be asking them: what are you doing today?

What Tech Offices Say

My new essay on Tech Aesthetics is up at Aeon Magazine.

The tech industry has reimagined the office as a vehicle for conveying workers’ social and professional prestige.
— http://aeon.co/magazine/altered-states/what-tech-offices-tell-us-about-the-future-of-work/