Tuesday News: Did Uber threaten a female journalist; are books essential goods; why is the Internet a guilty pleasure; and how we can get the meaning of life in 60 seconds or less
Report: Senior Uber exec threatened to dig up dirt on journalists – So apparently stalking and doxxing have gone mainstream. According to a story in Buzzfeed and discussed in this Gigaom piece, Uber’s Senior Vice President of Business Emil Michael proposed holding female journalist Sarah Lacy “personally responsible” for any woman who deleted the Uber app and then got sexually assaulted. Lacy wrote a story about how she removed the app in the wake of some not so woman-friendly comments from folks at Uber. Part of this ‘personal responsibility’ apparently involved proving “a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.” I know that many women think that Gamergate is fringe. But an Uber executive is not, especially when this conversation apparently occurred in public. Did this really happen? If it did, it’s so seriously fucked up that I can barely manage to assimilate it. And no fucking way am I installing the Uber app.
Uber has extensive data on its customers, from their credit card numbers to real-time locations. With the power of that information, it would have an easy upper hand at tracking reporters — and almost anyone using its service, really — and unveiling details of their personal lives. The idea of them attacking journalists in a Machiavellian political scheme is downright creepy. It also says a lot about the company’s ethical issues and take-no-prisoner approach to business. –Gigaom
Should the United States Declare Books an ‘Essential Good’? – Daniel Mendelsohn and Mohsin Hamid trade arguments about whether the US should make books an “essential good.” Both use the example of France, where books are considered an essential good, to make their argument. Mendelsohn claims that the government has protected French literary culture, and because of that, the French read, on average, 25% more books per year than Americans. By contrast, Hamid is wary of the idea that writers are any different from other “workers,” and that Americans need to see themselves as both producers and consumers, as was the case in the mid-20th century. As he describes his position:
In the balance between our rights as consumers and as producers — as, go on, say it: laborers — the pendulum has swung too far one way. (I say “our” rights even though I live in Pakistan and don’t have an American passport; my qualifications are a merit badge as a cub scout in California and 17 years of residing in the United States.)
The America that boomed in the mid-20th century was a place where the state demanded that male citizens surrender years of their lives to national service, where the top income tax rate hovered between 70 and 94 percent, and where commercial banks were prohibited from investment banking. It was a veritable socialist paradise compared to the America of today. –New York Times
Why I Am Teaching a Course Called “Wasting Time on the Internet” – University of Pennsylvania’s Kenneth Goldsmith is teaching a creative writing class that is based in the idea of “wasting time on the internet,” or how our online life is actually a form of personal expression and we need to get over this idea that our online engagement is somehow inferior or shameful. It’s a pretty interesting and provocative piece, and I kind of want to take the class.
Similarly, I have no doubt that the students in “Wasting Time on the Internet” will use Web surfing as a form of self-expression. Every click is indicative of who we are: indicative of our likes, our dislikes, our emotions, our politics, our world view. Of course, marketers have long recognized this, but literature hasn’t yet learned to treasure—and exploit—this situation. The idea for this class arose from my frustration with reading endless indictments of the Web for making us dumber. I’ve been feeling just the opposite. We’re reading and writing more than we have in a generation, but we are reading and writing differently—skimming, parsing, grazing, bookmarking, forwarding, retweeting, reblogging, and spamming language—in ways that aren’t yet recognized as literary.
And yet this is nothing new: modernism prepared us to interact with words in the digital environment. Joyce’s use of compound words in “Finnegans Wake” predicted lengthy run-on hashtags; Mallarmé’s visual use of words splayed across pages are, in essence, nineteenth-century animated GIFs; Zola’s “Rougon-Macquart” series anticipates long-form blogging; Hester Thrale’s trolling of Boswell in the margins is exactly what happens in comment streams; and Félix Fénéon’s recasting of newspaper headlines as poems in his “Novels in Three Lines” is a 1906 version of Twitter. –The New Yorker
A History of Ideas: Animated Videos Explain Theories of Simone de Beauvoir, Edmund Burke & Other Philosophers – 60-second animated clips, narrated by Harry Shearer and each focused on either a philosophical issue, debate, or thinker. Written for people with absolutely no background in these subjects. Good luck pulling yourself away from these little gems.
Drawn from Bragg’s BBC 4 radio program “A History of Ideas,” the shorts introduce exactly that—each one a précis of a longstanding philosophical problem like Free Will vs. Determinism (top) or the Problem of Evil (above). Unlike some similarly rapid outlines, these videos—like the tie-in Bragg radio program—don’t simply sketch out the issues in abstract; they draw from specific approaches from fields as diverse as neuroscience, moral philosophy, theology, and feminist theory. –Open Culture
Holy moley. I’ve always given Uber the side eye but now I am waving my arms around and giving it the evil eye.
Well, that guy has certainly got people about his company. Too bad what anyone with two functioning brain cells is saying is, “No fraking way.” What is in the collective Internet water that everyone seems to be losing their minds and their moral compass.
Uber: above the law, are we? wow.
I know an Uber driver. He said that he’d never allow a female relative of his take an Uber ride alone.
That – plus the above article – sealed Uber’s fate with me. I’ll pay that higher “safety tax” and ride in a regulated taxi, thanks.
Correlation is not causation, correlation is not causation, correlation is not causation.
@Rosario: No, it’s not; but I don’t read Mendelsohn as making that causal argument. He ends his piece this way:
“Such realities reflect deep cultural values that can’t be Band-Aided over. Should we declare books ‘an essential good’? Sure, declare away. But saying so won’t make it so.”
In other words, he suggests that books are an “essential good” in France because their culture has long valued intellectual activity, not vice versa. And it’s because they value literary culture that the French protect it. Declaring books an essential good in the US would not have the same effect.
@Liz Mc2 and @Rosario: In regard to the sentence Rosario referenced in my summary of the piece, and the section that summary references in the piece itself, I think he is absolutely making a causal argument between the government’s protection of literary culture and the allegedly more robust reading patterns among the French.
But I agree with Liz that he’s not claiming that if the US officially declares books an essential good, that everyone will suddenly read more and value books more.
Actually, one of my biggest problems with Mendelsohn’s part of the piece was the way it IMO narrowly conceived of literary culture and cultural values, but that was too much of a side trip for such a short piece, IMO.
@MrsJoseph: I think there’s huge government resistance to Uber here. There are regulations up the wazoo for taxi plates and “blue plates” (hire cars – they have a blue number plate – they can be booked like taxis but can’t pick up fares at ranks or in the street) – in terms of safety and monitoring the numbers of them so that there is enough for consumer need but not too many that drivers can’t make a living. Generally speaking, I don’t like our state government all that much but I think they’re right here. We have regulations about safety cameras and seat belts and roadworthiness that Uber, native, don’t match. The government have said that if Uber starts here, they will issue fines immediately to any Uber driver who doesn’t meet the regulations . Those regulations cost money to meet – I’d bet that if Uber drivers actually met them, the service wouldn’t be so cheap.
Is the taxi industry in the US not as regulated?
It could be because I’m in Japan, but I still don’t know what Uber is… I have a vague idea from some Buzzfeed videos, but it seemed like a scary concept from what I could gather on my own.
Otherwise… holy moly, so many cool things linked here! You’re going to keep me busy for a few hours. :P
According to an update at the Gigaom piece, Emil Michael released the following statement:
“The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner – borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for – do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”
Assuming that’s an accurate report of his statement, he’s admitted he said it, and now that it’s generated a lot of very bad publicity because someone reported comments he made at what he thought was an off the record dinner party, he’s trying to minimise the damage by claiming that what he said in the heat of the moment is no way connected to his actual views about the proper intimidation and punishment of uppity women and journalists.
And according to the Buzzfeed article:
“In fact, the general manager of Uber NYC accessed the profile of a BuzzFeed News reporter, Johana Bhuiyan, to make points in the course of a discussion of Uber policies. At no point in the email exchanges did she give him permission to do so.”
So it looks as if senior Uber people not only think this sort of thing could be a good idea as a company policy, they’re already doing it on an ad-hoc basis.