Results tagged “newyorker”

Call and Response

October 12, 2010

As ever, the best thing about blogging is the conversations it kicks off. Some nice responses to recent posts here and around the web:

  • A few weeks ago I was quoted in the New Yorker talking about Facebook and its impact on culture. In this week's issue of the New Yorker, I pop up again, but this time quoted in Ben McGrath's lengthy profile of Nick Denton. Spoilers: The piece closes with me asking, "Who has more freedom in the media world than Nick Denton?" People seem to like lines like that, as the quote popped up in The NY Times Dealbook blog and elsewhere.
  • At Web 2.0 Expo here in New York last week, I did an interview with Mac Slocum of O'Reilly. While I included the video here in an earlier post, Mac revisited the interview on the O'Reilly Radar blog under the title "Why blogging still matters", focusing on one of the points that came up later in the conversation. It had been a long day with lots of different ideas flowing, so I'd nearly forgotten that we even talked about that, but now I'm pretty glad that part of the conversation was captured.
  • I was a judge in the Apps 4 Africa contest which ended last week with some amazing winners, including my favorite iCow, which came in first place. You can listen to an interview I did with Future Tense about the competition, or check out this video of Secretary of State Clinton congratulating the winners:

  • This past weekend, I attended the Open Web Foo Camp hosted by O'Reilly. While the camp itself is off the record, Scott Rosenberg did an admirable job of documenting one of the key themes of the event — whether the present "open" phase of the web is merely an aberration. I tried to use my access to influential open web advocates at Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other big web companies to push them to make their employers more open and to resist the urge to compromise on their principles despite the understandable pressure they must be under. Hopefully a little friendly urging can give them the support they need to make the right choices.
  • Finally, with ThinkUp well into beta-testing and Expert Labs supporting its first deployment by Code for America, Gina Trapani and I joined John Moore on The Lab for a brief interview about Expert Labs and where ThinkUp is headed.

Okay, that's enough roundup of Other People's Content. We'll return to original content here again shortly.

The Facebook Reckoning

September 13, 2010

There's a lengthy, excellent profile of Mark Zuckerberg, and by proxy Facebook, in this week's issue of the New Yorker, written by Jose Antonio Vargas. In it, I'm quoted saying about Mark, "If you are twenty-six years old, you’ve been a golden child, you’ve been wealthy all your life, you’ve been privileged all your life, you’ve been successful your whole life, of course you don’t think anybody would ever have anything to hide". That's an accurate quote, but there's even more nuance to my feelings about Facebook than merely remarking on the privilege of its CEO.

First, the requisite disclaimers: I like and use Facebook; I have many friends, including some good friends, who work at the company at all levels of its hierarchy. I've met Mark Zuckerberg a few times, and while we aren't friends, our few interactions have been nothing but cordial. My business partner Michael Wolf famously tried to acquire Facebook during his time at MTV Networks and thinks highly of Mark. The tech projects that I influence, from Gourmet Live to ThinkUp deeply integrate Facebook into their core functions. So I'm not a knee-jerk anti-Facebook reactionary.

The truth is, I care deeply about the culture of the web, and am concerned that many of the decisions Facebook makes are detrimental to its culture, particularly when Facebook inadvertently imposes an extreme set of values on its users without adequately communicating the consequences of those choices.

I'm not the first to raise these issues, particularly in the context of Facebook's stance on privacy. The cover of Time magazine a few months back was about Facebook's privacy issues. Mark responded with a lengthy and somewhat vague response to the concerns, indicating that he realizes the seriousness of the challenge these issues pose for the company. At the time, a scrappy upstart efforts called Diaspora* captured the imagination of those who are frustrated by Facebook's repeated inability to address these issues and raised nearly $200,000 from thousands of donors who hoped to sponsor a significant challenge to Facebook's domination of large-scale social networking. And of course The Social Network, the massive movie based on Facebook's early founding, is only two weeks from release.

But actually, I don't care that much about privacy.

I started blogging when I was younger than Mark is today, and have shared a lot more information publicly about every aspect of my life than he ever has. It's been eight years since I wrote about privacy through identity control, and the key point there seems as relevant today as it did then:

We're all celebrities now, in a sense. Everything that we say or do is on the record. And everything that's on the record is recorded for posterity, and indexed far better than any file photo or PR bio ever was. It used to be that only those who chose career paths that resulted in notoriety or celebrity would face having to censor themselves or be forced to consciously control the image that they project.

What I do care about is this company advocating for a pretty radical social change to be inflicted on half a billion people without those people's engagement, and often, effectively, without their consent. As we saw with the rollout of Facebook's user names feature, the tech industry is very poorly equipped to talk about complex issues of identity and strongly prefers to talk about companies and features instead of communities and choice.

Because, let's be clear, Facebook is philosophically run by people who are extremists about information sharing. Though I choose to talk about my politics, or my identity, or my medical history or my personal relationships, I can do so primarily because I have the privilege to do so thanks to my social standing, wealth, and the arbitrary fact of being born in the United States. I also have an identity that isn't considered offensive or off-putting enough to face serious repercussions.

But what if I weren't my own boss? What if my family couldn't accept parts of my identity? What if I weren't technologically savvy enough to know how to engage with all of the choices about public sharing that Facebook forces me to understand? What if it were important to my own personal identity that public representations of me be colored purple instead of blue, as on Facebook? It's easy to say all of our choices and all the aspects of our identity can be shared if we don't face any serious social or personal consequences for doing so. But most of us are not that fortunate.

I'd say today's story obliquely covers that as well.

Colors don’t matter much to Zuckerberg; a few years ago, he took an online test and realized that he was red-green color-blind. Blue is Facebook’s dominant color, because, as he said, “blue is the richest color for me—I can see all of blue.”

As it turns out, the way we can all express ourselves on Facebook today is literally constrained by the limits of what Mark Zuckerberg can see. I've been in environments that were constrained in similar ways; The first time I entered the Harvard Club here in New York City to visit with a friend, I felt very acutely the implicit judgments of an environment where the fact that I don't have a college education was considered a relevant way to judge my identity. And though I use Facebook, I don't ever forget that it was conceived as a private club for members of the Ivy League as well.

Perhaps by engaging more with its users in an honest way about its radical stance on public sharing, and by clearly articulating the social costs that can arise from that stance, Facebook can become as truly inclusive as it strives to be.

Auto-Tune Goes Legit

June 6, 2008

Dedicated readers will recall me obsessing over and over-analyzing Auto-Tune in pop music earlier this year. It is, then, my pleasure to report that, thanks to the inestimable Sasha Frere-Jones, Auto-Tune analysis has gone legit. Behold, no less an authority than the New Yorker weighs in on Auto-Tune, especially T-Pain's (ab)use of it:

This, roughly, is what happens: Auto-Tune locates the pitch of a recorded vocal, and moves that recorded information to the nearest "correct" note in a scale, which is selected by the user. With the speed set to zero, unnaturally rapid corrections eliminate portamento, the musical term for the slide between two pitches. Portamento is a natural aspect of speaking and singing, central to making people sound like people. A nonmusical example of portamento would be "up-speak," a verbal tic common in some people under thirty. (Can you imagine the end of every sentence rising in pitch? Like a question?) Processed at zero speed, Auto-Tune turns the lolling curves of the human voice into a zigzag of right-angled steps. These steps may represent "perfect" pitches, but when sung pitches alternate too quickly the result sounds unnatural, a fluttering that is described by some engineers as "the gerbil" and by others as "robotic."

The gerbil.

Update: Now with audio! "Here Frere-Jones talks about how Auto-Tune has become a pop-music phenomenon, and demonstrates how it can transform the human voice, with the help of the music producer Tom Beaujour."

U Don't Have To Be Rich

August 4, 2007

In the New Yorker, Bruce Wagner tries to live my life:

The performance began at two in the morning and took place in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. It was amazing. I was so close to Prince that I was injured during the six-and-a-half-hour set. A few lucky ones, who paid an additional hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars--twelve of us, to be exact, including Simon Cowell, the body of Christopher Isherwood, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Moore, the lissome Emma Watson, and the physicist Stephen Hawking--milled about after the show. We were all gregarious and high from the experience....

After Prince stopped playing, the two of us had brunch together. I was sitting so close to the diminutive legend that, as he ate, flecks of his omelette fell into my mouth. The privilege of this intimate meal cost an additional eighty-five thousand dollars, but it was worth every penny.

For a few weeks afterward, I was depressed. Going out to dinner with friends--for, say, two hours of convivial overfamiliarity and banal, rehashed conversation--seemed like idiocy, and the emptiness was only exacerbated when my friends jumped for the check. Even my normal morning ritual held no joy. Usually, one assistant comes into the bedroom with a pot of Indonesian coffee (the brew, six hundred dollars a pound and DHL'd from England, where it is rumored to be a favorite of the Royal Family, is sifted from the dung of wild civets) while a second factotum presents me with a freshly bound volume containing selections from every blog and Twitter and Facebook entry that has mentioned my name in the past twenty-four hours--hundreds of pages, with "BRUCE WAGNER" in convenient boldface--but even this lost its allure.

This is exactly what my experience was like, only my freshly bound volume is slightly thicker than Bruce's.

A Temple in Vegas

April 2, 2007

Sasha Frere-Jones bears witness to Prince's ageless funk in this week's New Yorker. As much as I admire Prince's gifts, it's Sasha's job I want.

Anti-Wikipedia Links

July 31, 2006

The community of people who criticize Wikipedia form an interesting culture, as I noted earlier. If you want the links to do the research yourself, here's some places to start.

On Being An American

September 11, 2002

I was born and raised outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. A few weeks ago, an editor of The Patriot-News, the local paper, asked me for my thoughts regarding the anniversary of the attacks.

To put things in context, I was always very ambivalent about the culture of the area I grew up in. Though it's very geographically beautiful, it is a much more conservative place that I didn't really begin to appreciate until years after I had left. It is also a simpler place, in many ways, which is why the tone of my editorial is a little more straightforward and literal than my usual cynical and sarcastic self. Not, of course, that they wouldn't understand my piece, but that the usual tone of my writing wouldn't really do justice to the ideas I was trying to express.

Or, to put it a different way, I'm a lot more corny and maudlin in this essay, but it's mostly because one of the things I've tried not to do since the attacks is mask actual emotion with the usual ironic distance that I tend to apply to such matters. I'm an idealist at heart, and I'd rather have that show.

Also, the Harrisburg Senators are the AA minor league baseball team, which after a rocky history had shut down in the 1950s, only to be revived in 1987 as part of a revitalization of Harrisburg. The city has flourished since, and I can't help but think that part of the reason why is because it was so inspiring to watch that team achieve such a tremendous success their very first year out.

This essay appeared with slightly different edits in last Sunday's Patriot-News.

A month after last September's attacks, I left Manhattan for the first time. I had holed up a bit, clinging to my adopted city as a bit of a sanctuary, wanting to hold on tightly to a New York that suddenly seemed vulnerable, even fragile. But it was time to venture out, so I found myself en route to Harrisburg, and to the town I was born and raised in.

The thing that struck me, other than the usual contrast of Harrisburg, with its quiet and its slower pace, was the distinction between New York City and Central Pennsylvania's signs. The marquees in front of restaurants and car dealerships and churches had all sprouted similar reassurances of "United We Stand" or "God Bless America", in a singularity of message that I hadn't seen since my days as a teenager in the area, when the success of any local sports team would prompt all of the signs to show a similar unity.

That driving down the street would evoke memories of rooting for the home team when I was younger probably wasn't coincidence. As a self-described member of the New York liberal media, and a man who is the son of first-generation immigrants, I was never unaware on my visits to my hometown that there were some who felt I was somehow less American than they were. Add in that I probably physically look a little more like the hijackers of last September than most people's mental image of the boy next door, and suddenly what seemed uncomfortable or unusual might now be construed as downright Unamerican. But my identity as an American was forged by my experiences growing up in these small towns.

And in those first weeks, I thought a lot about what it is to be American. That a lot of people outside of New York City might not even recognize their own country if they came to visit. The America that was attacked a year ago was an America where people are as likely to have been born outside the borders of the U.S. as not. Where most of the residents speak another language in addition to English. Where the soundtrack is, yes, jazz and blues and rock and roll, but also hip hop and salsa and merengue. New York has always been where the first fine threads of new cultures work their way into the fabric of America, and the city the bore the brunt of those attacks last September reflected that ideal to its fullest.

It was no accident that the primary target, the location deemed most threatening and offensive to those who would resent American culture, is the place where we embrace the widest variety of people. Where what it is to be American is at its most inclusive, and it becomes clear that American is not something that one does, but rather something that one is. Among those lost in the collapse of the Twin Towers were citizens of at least 42 countries. To have lost people from so many countries around the world is part of what makes those events a particularly American tragedy.

I realized shortly after the attacks that, while flying, or when crossing one of the bridges or tunnels into Manhattan, or even just in going about the course of my daily life, I might have to show not just that I had no ill intent, but that I might need to prove my "American-ness". A photo ID or a knowledge of American customs wouldn't be enough, now that those murderers had tainted those formerly unblemished credentials.

What came to mind on the times when I wondered about proving myself as an American were the images of my youth spent in Central Pennsylvania. I started to carry around in my wallet some ticket stubs from one magical summer when I was in junior high school, when the then brand-new Harrisburg Senators went from being nonexistent to being Eastern League champs. The proof of my loyalty was my history in Harrisburg, not because I had gone to a few baseball games, but because being American is part of who I am. Anyone can come to our country and eat a hot dog and watch a ball game and stroll along the riverside, but that won't make him an American. Being able to grow up amongst fellow fans, despite not knowing of the history of the Senators who played in the 50's, being able to bridge small-town boy and big-city man, being able to live both as a personally conservative son of immigrants and a politically liberal citizen of the United States: these were the proud privileges and cherished rights that made me an American.

It's a lesson not easily learned. I've seen the eye-rolling as politicians and opportunists on both sides of the political spectrum try to use the World Trade Center attacks as justification for whatever plans or programs they've always been convinced should be foisted upon the public. I've seen the grimaces and groans as challenges to the Pledge of Allegiance were mounted. I've seen good people with unpopular views labelled as disloyal, untrustworthy, even treasonous. So it bears repeating that being an American isn't something that you do, it's something that you are.

The lesson I've learned is to extend the embrace to all the members of our American family. Get annoyed, get angry, be incensed as you are with your sister who always votes the opposite of you, as annoyed as you get with your father who never quite got where you were coming from politically. And come back, shaking your head but still smiling, and enjoy the chance to appreciate those Americans that your reflexes tell you to resent. Be thankful for the chance to have neighbors or fellow citizens who raise your ire or offend your sensibilities. Be thankful that we can sit in a quiet small town and roll our eyes at the inanities of a visitor from a big city. I'll be the first to admit that every time I return to New York City from a visit to Harrisburg, I look around at all my fellow New Yorkers and wonder for a moment if they're all just a little bit crazy. And, of course, they are. Or at least they're a little bit different.

It's a difference we're privileged to have.