Showing posts from October, 2019

The question for Silicon Valley

A single question has lingered over Mike Judge's Silicon Valley from the beginning. That question is whether he and his writing team—call them "the show"—believe that Richard and his unlikely crew of can-do programming losers not only can but ought to "win," and that such a win could be genuinely transformative and good for the world, or whether the system and culture of Silicon Valley are so fundamentally corrupted that even to win is to lose.

This dynamic has made the show worth watching till the end, but frustrating at times as well. It's not just whether Richard or his friends might "break bad," which the show entertained for a while. It's whether we, the audience, ought to cheer on Richard when he triumphs over the big bads of Google and Twitter and Facebook (or their stand-in "Hooli"), with his dream of a "free internet," or whether we ought to see through the self-serving rhetoric that attends every such dream.


On blissful ignorance of Twitter trends, controversies, beefs, and general goings-on

Being off Twitter continues to be good for my soul as well as my mind, and one of the benefits I'm realizing is the ignorance that comes as a byproduct. By which I mean, ignorance not in general or of good things but of that which it is not beneficial to know.

When you're on Twitter, you notice what is "trending." This micro-targeted algorithmic function shapes your experience of the website, the news, the culture, and the world. Even if it were simply a reflection of what people were tweeting about the most, it would still be random, passing, and mass-generated. Who cares what is trending at any one moment?

More important, based on the accounts one follows, there is always some tempest in a teacup brewing somewhere or other. A controversy, an argument, a flame war, a personal beef: whatever its nature, the brouhaha exerts a kind of gravitational pull, sucking us poor online plebs into its orbit. And because Twitter is the id unvarnished, the kerfuffle in question is…

A comprehensive list of undefeated teams in the NBA

Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers, San Antonio Spurs.

Just sayin'.

Must theologians be faithful? A question for Volf and Croasmun

In their new book, For the Life of the World: Theology That Makes a Difference (Brazos Press, 2019), Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun make the argument that the lives of theologians matter for the writing and evaluation of theological proposals. Reading through chapter 5, though, where they make the argument, I was left unsure about what exactly they were claiming. Let me offer a sample of quotations and then offer a range of interpretations of the claim or claims they are wanting to make.

(Full disclosure: Miroslav and Matthew are at Yale, and were there when I earned my doctorate; the former was a teacher, the latter a fellow student and friend. Take that for what it's worth. Here on out I'll call them V&C.)

Consider the following quotes (bolded emphases all mine):
"execution of the central theological task requires a certain kind of affinity between the life the theologian seeks to articulate and the life the theologian seeks to lead." (118)"an affinity b…

About that Episode IX trailer

Everything I wrote here stands, but man alive is that a beautiful trailer.

It's a reminder of what Abrams gets: emotion, character, rapport, scale, energy, world-building, and—as this trailer not-misleadingly reminds us—composition and cinematography.
What we will see here in just 8 weeks is whether he delivers on everything he has always failed to accomplish, at least in full, not least those crucial modifiers of popular storytelling: original (not derivative), creative (not nostalgic), and conveniens (not mystery-box surprising).

I'm not optimistic, but it's not hopeless just yet. No matter what, it will be an experience. The only question is whether he'll be able to stick the landing.

A few comments and predictions while we're at it.

1. I genuinely appreciate how much Abrams has withheld from us. I only wish he'd kept that shot of faux-dark Rey from us.

2. Rey will not "go dark." That brief glimpse is a Force vision (false or future), a clone, h…

A clarification on the NBA, China, and free speech

"Free speech" is a legal concept: whether the state in any way muzzles one's ability to speak or whether it responds punitively based on the content of one's speech.

Within civil society, an organization (for profit or not) is not a "player" in the realm of free speech. Organizations place all kinds of controls on one's speech within the workplace and, in certain respects, outside of it. These can be reasonable or unreasonable; they can fairly or unfairly applied. But they are run of the mill, and have no bearing on "free speech."

Whether or not Daryl Morey is disciplined or even fired by the NBA for his tweet in support of Hong Kong has nothing to do with free speech. This isn't a free-market point, along the lines of "the NBA is free to do whatever it likes; it's a business, and Morey is an employee." That's technically true, but not my point.

Let me put it this way. To respond to the crisis elicited by Morey's twee…

Meghan O'Gieblyn on the church's market-based failures

"Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished val…

Seven thoughts on life without Twitter

1. It's very nice. Today's day five, and while I still have the impulse to tweet, I can feel it lessening by the hour.

2. It's less cluttered. Twitter is a sinkhole for time, a place to go and get lost, even for 15 minutes. Without that reliable time-suck, I've been doing more life-giving things, or even just plain productive activities—or just letting myself be bored. That, too, is better than the infinite scroll.

3. Twitter, it turns out, is ubiquitous. I encounter disembedded—or rather, embedded—tweets in a variety of forms: through a simple Google search, through shared links, through articles, through newsletters, through news reporting, etc. It's a healthy reminder of how entangled Twitter is with our national discourse, and actually suggests that Twitter plays a more central role in folks' daily intake (however passive) than raw counts of profiles and time on the platform itself would suggest. (Though that role would have more to do with Twitter as a med…

Sorting nationalism and patriotism with John Lukacs

One of the most curious things in the last few years has been the reinvigoration of the term "nationalism" as a political signifier and "nationalist" as a self-identification. In both scholarly and popular Christian discourse, at least, this is curious especially because, so far as I can tell, "nationalism" became in the last few decades a consensus word for the extreme, blasphemous, and/or heretical corruption of the virtue of patriotism. I have books on my shelf—one for college freshmen, another for graduate students, another for the broader reading public, another for fellow academics—all of which trade on this settled usage.

Now "nationalism" is back, not just as a historical-political force but as a terminological boundary marker. Unfortunately, though, its political associations as well as its function as a football in ideological disputes have contributed to something less than clarity. So that, e.g., to be nationalist is to be for "…

A Twitter trial

I'm reconsidering my presence on Twitter. I wrote earlier this year about why, for the time being, I was still on the platform. But as I said (via tweet) yesterday, I'm not long for that website. Let me lay out, briefly, why that is, and the experiment I'm going to undertake in the coming weeks.

1. Even with the comparatively limited time I spend on Twitter, I find during working and non-online hours that it burrows too deeply into my skull. I have a thought or read a great line and think, "I should tweet that out." Or I do tweet something out, and 40 minutes later I think, "I should put down this book and see if anyone's responded." That's crazy and unhealthy. Best to be off entirely.

2. Even having removed Twitter from my phone, even blocking access to it on my laptop for long stretches using Freedom, I still open up my computer too often wanting to "check in," and more often than not I end up getting sucked in for 10 minutes instead…