We all know the feeling. You're sleepless in the sad hours of the night or stumbling around early on a hazy weekend morning in need of something to read, and that pile of unread books just isn't cutting it. Why not take a break from the fire hose of Twitter and RSS and check out our weekly roundup of essential writing from around the web about technology, culture, media, and the future? Sure, it's one more thing you can feel guilty about sitting in your Instapaper queue, but it's better than pulling in vain on your Twitter list again.
First up, the weekly column finally has an RSS feed, and now on to a April Fool's joke-free lineup:
Matt Pearce struggles with photography and its digital augmentation.
The New Inquiry: Matt Pearce - Shoot Hip or Die
I already know that I will likely never pay someone to take a photo for me again, just as the arrival of journalist – replacing iPhones and free downloads of Hipstamatic and Instagram mean that I, too, am ever less likely to get paid. The work of photography once belonged exclusively to laborers. Now it belongs to everybody, it belongs to me, and someday I will put my father out of business forever because of it.
On tiny stories
I've been hooked on author Teju Cole's novel use of Twitter to write "small" news stories about Lagos, Nigeria, a practice that he derived from the French expression fait divers ("small fates," or literally, "incidents"). Yesterday, he announced that with the help of the Library of Congress newspaper archives, he'll be writing similar tiny stories drawn from the New York of 1912. Follow him at @tejucole.
tejucole.com: Teju Cole - Small Fates
The stories I tell in the small fates are more tightly compressed than most fait divers(thanks to the limitation of length Twitter imposes) and often more laconic. I like to flirt with straight reportage, or the appearance of straight reportage. Each tells a truth, a whole truth, but never the whole truth (but this is true of all storytelling). Details are suppressed, secondary characters vanish, sometimes the "important" aspect of the story is sidestepped in order to highlight a poignant detail.
On hot spots
Steven Boone talks to the loiterers, hustlers, and homeless using The Apple Stores' free public Wi-Fi.
Capital New York: Steven Boone - Hustling the cloud: McDonald's hot spots and the internet jackals of the Apple Store
This was the future a lot of dystopian sci-fi authors warned us about, where a private, profit-hungry corporation could make itself feel like Mom's house. I loved it. For the ridiculous amount of money Apple had raked in during its stellar iPod/iPhone decade, it was willing to let a few stragglers abuse their sample products, maintaining an aura of Californian liberality.
Matt Buchanan calls for a "universal private mode button."
FWD: Matt Bucahnan - We Need A Private Mode For The Whole Internet
You cannot hide what you’re listening to from your friends on Rdio. You cannot have a private pinboard on Pinterest. You cannot hide your favorites on Twitter. You cannot delete titles from your Netflix history. (Netflix isn’t shared on Facebook right now, but it’s not for lack of wanting to.) Spotify freaks out a little bit when the social thing isn’t working and harangues you constantly to connect it to your social networks (even though it, admirably, has a private mode).
And Choira Sicha asks us to revel in the kidney-punching joy of blocking people online.
The Awl: Choire Sicha - The Joys of Blocking People
Every time I see an ad on Twitter, I block the company. (So long, KmartDeals, StaplesUS, Walmart Specials.) Every time someone annoys me majorly, I don't unfollow: I just go the extra mile and block 'em. It's great! You're nuking them from your universe! Am I annoying you? You should block me too!
Michael Joseph Gross explores the past, present, and future of the regulation of the web.
Vanity Fair: Michael Joseph Gross - World War 3.0
The Net has given more individuals more power in a shorter period of time than any new technology in history. And unlike many other world-changing technologies, there is no institutional barrier to access. This has made it, on balance, mostly destructive of institutional authority, especially that of nation-states.
On movie trailers
Mike Barthel looks at how movie trailers have evolved over the past twenty years into a far more visceral medium that doesn't simply explain most of a film's plot in a few short minutes. Or, just use this as an excuse to watch the Prometheus trailer again.
Salon: Mike Barthel - The movie trailer revolution
Another big change involves the way trailers sound. While the music used tends to be the focus, those noises you hear at the end of the "Prometheus" trailer simply didn’t exist 20 years ago. "That’s a way more subtle effect that I don’t know if the general audience realizes, but people in the industry sure do," said Smith.
On 'digitally thin'
Former Flipboard designer Craig Mod writes about the physical book he created to document and recognize the team's experience of building the iPhone app.
craigmod.com: Craig Mod - The Digital↔Physical
By December, every piece of the application had been disassembled, scrubbed, and oiled from a user experience, surface design, and information architecture perspective. Furthermore, every piece of the underlying engineering had been hammered and abused in testing for solidity: just try to crash the thing.
On meatspace and wire
Back in 1996, Neal Stephenson told the story of the world's longest wire.
Wired: Neal Stephenson - Mother Earth Mother Board
Everything that has occurred in Silicon Valley in the last couple of decades also occurred in the 1850s. Anyone who thinks that wild-ass high tech venture capitalism is a late-20th-century California phenomenon needs to read about the maniacs who built the first transatlantic cable projects (I recommend Arthur C. Clarke's book How the World Was One). The only things that have changed since then are that the stakes have gotten smaller, the process more bureaucratized, and the personalities less interesting.
Have any favorites that you'd like to see included in next week's edition? Send them along to @thomashouston or share in the comments below.