A Tenement Apartment for Ideas

A Storied Book

I borrowed a book (yes, a physical book) from the library the other day and discovered, while leafing through it to find my place (the irony is not missed), a couple pages with the telltale ruffling of dried tears.

Far be it from me to prescribe a medium for storytelling, but I couldn't help reflect on how a digital book could never have connected me to another person as viscerally as finding those rippled leaves that succinctly told a whole other meta narrative.

And if, as David Foster Wallace once believed, all storytelling is a struggle to overcome our dejecting solipsism, I would endorse those ruffled pages as being quite a successful story, one seemingly exclusive to the physical medium of a book.

So for all the favorable conveniences of digital literature, physical print media still seems to hold all the powerful sentimental arguments—unless of course those were just the drool stains of a drowsy reader, in which case—fuck.


Mike LinComment
WhatsApp with That?

$19 billion seems like a lot of money to pay for a glorified chat app. So much so that the deal made significant headlines. So why did Zuckerberg do it?

By their own estimates, WhatsApp has 400 million active monthly users, and that number is growing. With the forthcoming arrival of free voice messaging, that puts WhatsApp on the map as the world's fourth largest telecom service by user base. By comparison, Vodafone, which has a user base of 450 million has a current market cap of around $190 billion. That's 10x what Facebook paid for WhatsApp. If the current growth rate for the app continues, even at a fraction of their most recent estimates, the app may soon overtake both the number two and three spots in terms of users base.

Why is user base so important? Because it is the single greatest barrier to a fully online-based communication medium. Sure, WhatsApp and Facebook don't have the infrastructure of traditional wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T, but they don't need it. The service simply piggybacks on the bandwidth of those old-guard carriers, the bill for which the users foot themselves. The real impediment to any app fulfilling this role to date has been the simple fact that nobody wants to use an app as their sole communications medium if it's limited to only those other users who also have the app. But the statistics seemingly indicate that WhatsApp has somehow found a way to overcome that impediment with astronomic growth never before realized by any other service.

Which brings us to $19 billion. If continued user adoption is the most important consideration for Facebook and WhatsApp to address, making a splash at $19 billion is a perfect way to do it. While tech-savvy millennials might have previously been in the know about the app, the recent news bouncing from wall to wall via Shares and Likes and blogosphere click-baiting has certainly put this app on the maps of even those layman who aren't quick to adopt. $19 billion immediately puts in a consumer's mind one very nagging question: for what? And at a price point of $0.00, it's very easy for any curious neophyte to scratch that itch.

But that still leaves us with a simple question. How is Facebook going to recoup that investment? Well, I imagine Mark, the brash young technocrat that he is, figures that if an app has the power to challenge and potentially revolutionize the current oligopoly of wireless carriers, making money should come as an easy second-trick.

Mike LinComment
The Prophet @ 5th & 53rd


There is a man who can sometimes be found around the 5th & 53rd station. Heed ye his words.




Mike LinComment
The Prophet @ 5th & 53rd


There is a man who can sometimes be found around the 5th & 53rd station. Heed ye his words.



Mike LinComment
Private Parts

Amidst the current social controversies regarding constant connectedness and dystopian fiction-turned-fact surveillance, I've been doing some reflecting on the meaning and value of the buzz concept of 2013: privacy.

While the typical libertarian mantra of inalienable personal rights is tossed around as valid refutation of state sponsored nosiness, I've never been a fan of the "inalienable rights" argument. It glosses too readily over the deeper philosophical points that inform the opinion and give less analytically minded blowhards a convenient crux to lean on.

So in the case of privacy, I think it wise to explore beyond the political rhetoric and investigate how privacy really factors into our humanity, not just in the wider systemic sense, but on the deeply personal and philosophical level of how we experience life.

Very simply, privacy is a matter of agency. It is an extension of our capacity to dictate of the world and of our lives the terms by which we cope with existence. We think of privacy often as a matter of social stability or change, that it is the stuff of revolution and national security, but in fact, privacy is at its core most relevant to the individual person. All the other issues are just laddered and expounded concerns of a simple individual desire for control over ones own reality.

One of the consequences of personal agency is the emergence of self-identity. Because to act meaningfully is to do so in context, and the context of most human life is unquestionably social, what we do is inexorably tied to how we wish the world to perceive and receive us. The words we use, the clothes we wear, the style of our hair, the careers that we pursue, are all, conscious or otherwise, representative of the concept of self that defines our consciousness. 

So how does privacy fit in? Well, what we do is only half the equation of our identities. For an identity to be fully realized, it has to be communicated to a broader audience. Privacy is the management of that line of communication. It is only by acting as gatekeeper to the knowledge of ourselves that we exert any agency in our social lives. What we do may satisfy some solipsistic notion of self, but it is ultimately what others perceive about us that defines who we are in the wider reality of any human society. This is why you can never seek friendships with an anonymous philanthropist, why we are not happy to simply enjoy paradise, but compulsively need to Instagram the white sands and fallen coconuts on our lavish vacations. What cannot be shared cannot be known. And it is by this simple principle that all people manage the veil of privacy required to ensure their own status as gatekeeper, preserving the agency which imparts meaning to our existence.

When our privacy is breeched, it is not simply an affront to our political agendas and freedoms, it is stripping us of power. When others can control the flow of information that directly informs on who we are and what we do, we lose the option to dictate our own presence in the world. The early morning photos sans makeup, the juvenile record, the drug-addled past. These are components of individual lives which we each assume should be our own right to express or contain.

In fact, when it comes down to it, all communication is predicated on this managed transference of information between actors. What we call tact or charm is just the nuanced and mindful management of an identity and all the relevant information attached to it. The coy and graceful tête-à-tête of a first conversation, the concerns of making a proper first impression, the use of body language, a firm handshake. We have developed as human beings one of the most involved and delicate communications systems of any creature. Privacy is the fundamental concept that makes it possible. It is what allows us to gaze into the eyes of a stranger and determine in that moment to redefine ourselves. And as we slowly relinquish control of our roles as gatekeepers, so too do we lose the opportunities to say to the world, "This is who I am."

Mike LinComment
Lies Have Lives

They say the Devil is in the details, so you would think a good lie depends on covering those details with air tight alibis. But lies are not paintings. They are performance. They are temporal. And they demand a strategy that outlasts the necessary lifespan of the lie. Any execution of deceit that fills possible holes a skeptic might look through, but neglects to consider what holes might arise tomorrow is already priming itself for failure. A lie, by definition, is intentional, and intentions herald purpose, and purpose implies schedule. If a lie is meant to win an election, then the day after election day is the expiration date of that lie. A successful lie demands a strategy in place to account for all possible consequences stemming from that lie up until that expiration date. And as purposes shift, so too do the lifespans of lies. Some lies, for example, outlive election dates if the truth they cover warrant impeachments and recalls. Depending on purpose, some lies might outlive even the liars.

The reason so many people fail to consider the lifespan of a lie is because the truth has no expiration date. It is true without effort. It is true without intervention. It is true indefinitely. So when we are truthful, we are simply rattling off a self-sustaining statement which precedes and proceeds our needs. It lives independent of us unlike a lie which depends entirely upon our effort to give it life. A lie is not self-evident and it is not self-sustaining. It demands our constant vigilance in guarding against the reality that threatens to tear it down. It demands calculation that considers its necessary lifespan. The truth has no upkeep. A lie is defined by upkeep.

So when we collude and conspire to tell lies, it is imperative that we consider and discuss the lifespan of those lies. A plan must be made to define the plausible reality of that lie and detail every facet of that reality up to the expiration of the lie. It is not enough to ask of someone that they lie for you and to agree upon that lie. An effective conspiracy demands of the conspirators an understanding of the full extension of the lie. It demands that a full reality be built to sustain the lie for as long as needed, and that consensus ought to be deliberated and confirmed upfront, as the nature of conspiracies is that they are averse to familiarity. When consensus is unmet, it demands of each conspirator an independent effort of parentage which confuses the lie in ways that almost always lead to grotesqueries, often confusing even the conspirators themselves. If I am to lie for another, then I am required to understand both intention and purpose in order to effectively understand the lifespan. Without these considerations, there is no way for me to address future reasonable inquiries of validity.

So the next time you endeavor to lie, consider that you are not simply spackling over some unsightly defects, but giving life to and committing to something that will demand of you a certain care to nurse its unnatural constitution. Planning for its longevity not only ensures its effective execution but also for the effective care from co-conspirators. Liars need to plan for these things.

 Or they should otherwise settle for the truth.

Mike LinComment
#WTF #ThatsLife

Today, after a harrowing day of contending with the hyperbolic hard sells and less-than-subtle tactics of insidious realty agents and a tedious strategy session discussing the best course of action in continuing my ongoing pursuit of affordable living in New York City, I was treated to the entirely unrelated—but by no means innocuous—experience of having my car banged by a cab door as an infuriatingly unapologetic bitch swung it open to step inside. Left in total disbelief, I was incapable of reacting beyond tapping out two utterly impotent honks as the taxi pulled away.

Soon afterward, tired, frustrated, and on the brink of unconditional surrender, I was in full retreat on the FDR when I noticed two thin men with closely cropped hair leaning into each other over the center console inside the forest green Toyota Corolla stopped at the red light directly ahead of me. There, the passenger gently planted kisses on the neck of the driver in a private and mundane act of affection that managed to sweep away the stress that had all day curdled inside me. Bearing voyeuristic witness to that quiet and uncomplicated moment, amid the typical solitude of driving in traffic and painted over the context of my hellish day, felt like drinking from an existential oasis, dissolving away the bombastic frivolities that twisted my mind into such grotesque shapes. The thick suffocating blanket of urban solitude was momentarily lifted and my empathy, dulled by so many layers of defensive apathy, could finally take its first full breath in a very long time. I thought of my girlfriend and my close friends and all the people I cared about, and I was happy to be reminded by these two men that in this life, there are respites from the agony of the cancerous tedium that threatens to take us over when we lose perspective. We are each others' oases when the desert of daily life leaves us parched.

And while reflecting quietly on things more important than dents and deposits, cruising toward the GW, I ran over a pigeon.

It caught my eye at the very last second, and the desperate hope that I don't run it over was abruptly dashed by a gut-dropping noise that sounded like a merger of popping and crunching, onomatopoeically filled with simultaneous glottals and plosives: pfwwchkglkgl.

And all at once, the horror, stress, terror, and soul-crushing existential uncertainty I had only moments ago exhaled seized upon me like the sudden and putrid stench of roadkill carcass that's been marinading for days along a stretch of highway in the wet, oppressive air of a mid-Atlantic heat wave.

Mike LinComment