Fragments

An attempt at writing something new and unedited every day in 2019, as part of a New Year’s resolution. Inspired partly by Mark Fisher’s old blog (k-punk).

I’ve stopped writing these for now. For an explanation, see my latest email newsletter.

145
The Zynga chronicles - May 25 (1376 words)
Chronicling the real estate adventures of Zynga, a billion-dollar gaming startup in SF whose most lucrative product is its office. Tags: startups, housing
144
Reflecting on the recent news that a billionaire offered to pay off some lucky graduates' student loan debt. Tags: inequality
143
A danger of extreme wealth concentration: it gives rise to new imperatives. Tags: inequality, game-of-thrones
142
Minimum wage is livable - May 22 (443 words)
A series of tweets responding to the claim that minimum wage is livable if you cut out, well, most of the things that make life worth living. Tags: class-struggle
141
An analysis of the tech labour dynamics in the first episode of HBO's Silicon Valley's fifth season. Tags: working-in-tech, cultural-criticism, startups
140
A fictional report from the Uber protest earlier this month. Tags: fiction, gig-economy, working-in-tech
139
In the long run we are all dead - May 19 (562 words)
A quote from an essay by John Maynard Keynes. Tags: personal
138
A union for startups - May 18 (1410 words)
Reflections on Brex, which bills itself as a corporate card for startups, and what it means to uncritically promote startups in this day and age. Tags: startups
137
What if you could overthrow the socioeconomic system that forces you to resort to taking on debt in order to have a place to live? Tags: financialisation, housing, startups
136
Cannabis Delivery Concierge - May 16 (7 words)
A photo of a billboard on Folsom St in San Francisco, presented without comment. Tags: startups
135
A fictional email from a technical recruiter looking for software engineers to build tools to help extract more work out of serfs. Tags: working-in-tech, fiction
134
Kylie Jenner recently announced a product in her new skincare line that might actually hurt your skin. Tags: advertising
133
Why hypocrisy is good, actually - May 13 (1333 words)
Or at least, why charges of hypocrisy against the left aren't necessarily a killer argument. Tags: the-left
132
More thoughts on Daenerys' downward spiral and the comparisons one could make to today's ruling class. Tags: game-of-thrones, underdogs
131
The fly and the web - May 11 (168 words)
Another piece of flash fiction. Tags: fiction
130
A piece of flash fiction. Tags: fiction
129
An analysis of Robert Childan's decision in the season 3 finale of The Man in the High Castle. Tags: the-man-in-the-high-castle
128
Nassim Nicholas Taleb seems to think so. Tags: working-in-tech, startups, gig-economy, big-tech
127
The choices you make - May 7 (1481 words)
A look at Daenerys' journey over the eight seasons of Game of Thrones, and a possible parallel with today's ruling class. Tags: game-of-thrones, cultural-criticism, underdogs
126
The duality of tipping - May 6 (615 words)
The practice of tipping manages to be simultaneously highly capitalist yet weirdly outside the sphere of market relations. Tags: ideology
125
The sphere of social reproduction is a counterpoint to the capitalist idea that people will only be motivated to produce things by money. Tags: ideology
124
Domain name colonialism - May 4 (1649 words)
A brief history of Colombia's .co TLD as a neat little illustration of modern-day digital colonialism. Tags: ideology
123
Assume a spherical cow - May 3 (1659 words)
If you ignored all the important details, you could end concluding that the economy is going great and everything is fine. Tags: gig-economy, jason-calacanis, startups
122
When regulation gets in the way - May 2 (1197 words)
The traditional gig economy business model (using independent contractors) has just been confirmed to be illegal in California, in a ruling that applies retroactively. Tags: gig-economy
121
If you don't have the latter, do you really have the former? Tags: inequality
120
April recap - Apr 30 (1346 words)
A summary of the last 30 posts. Tags: recap
119
You are not your code - Apr 29 (1739 words)
Why software engineers need to worry about the social, economic, political implications of the products they build. Tags: working-in-tech, personal, game-of-thrones
118
Customer happiness isn't enough - Apr 28 (1407 words)
The typical goal of antitrust enforcement is to ensure better outcomes for consumers. But customer happiness is not the most important factor when it comes to tech companies. Tags: gig-economy, big-tech, intellectual-property
117
996.ICU and the rewards of hard work - Apr 27 (1158 words)
Some Chinese tech workers are being asked to work 9am-9pm, 6 days a week. Will this serve as a wake-up call for Silicon Valley to start working harder? Tags: working-in-tech, jason-calacanis
116
When the sorting function is broken - Apr 26 (1817 words)
Our current 'meritocratic' sorting function is a terrible way to sort people into a system with highly variable economic rewards. Tags: meritocracy, the-left, working-in-tech
115
(continued from day 113) The reason economic inequality is a problem is because it grants some undue power over others. Tags: inequality
114
(continued from day 113) Contesting the idea that you need the promise of massive financial reward to spur socially-useful entrepreneurship. Tags: inequality, startups
113
What's wrong with inequality? - Apr 23 (316 words)
Surely inequality is just a natural consequence of innovation. And anyway, it's not that bad. Tags: inequality
112
On internal migration restrictions - Apr 22 (1293 words)
When China restricts rural-urban migration, it's bad. When the same sort of restrictions are created by capitalism, that's totally fine. Tags: immigration, working-in-tech
111
Why do people work? - Apr 21 (1794 words)
Under capitalism, the way to encourage someone to work is to offer them money. But the effects of offering more money are neither guaranteed nor uniform. Tags: inequality, working-in-tech, personal
110
All copies of this ebook are currently checked out, so you'll have to wait until one becomes available. Tags: public-services, intellectual-property
109
When is a company a 'tech' company? - Apr 19 (2329 words)
And why does it matter? Tags: big-tech
108
Locally optimal, globally absurd - Apr 18 (1426 words)
Housing is an arena where the choices available to an individual are constrained within a narrow set of possibilities, each of which is globally suboptimal. Tags: housing, inequality
107
Finding the breadcrumbs - Apr 17 (1059 words)
I found the left at a time of my life when I was forced to admit that I didn't actually know as much about the world as I thought I did. Tags: personal, the-left
106
Building a better billboard - Apr 16 (856 words)
Advertising technology solutions tend to optimise for the world as it is, not the world as it should be. Tags: advertising, startups
105
Powerful corporations view politics as an arena in which to ensure their continued existence, at the expense of everybody else. Tags: us-politics, public-services
104
Unbundling progress - Apr 14 (687 words)
How can we criticise capitalism if it's brought us so much progress? Tags: ideology, inequality
103
Insulin as a public service - Apr 13 (446 words)
The public health crisis created by rising insulin costs is a strong argument for public provision of important drugs. This isn’t as impractical as it sounds. Tags: public-services, intellectual-property
102
Liberals love to scorn conservatives' dismissal of so-called 'experts'. But there is no ultimate technocratic authority to appeal to. Tags: us-politics
101
An elegant way to fix the housing crisis would be to take housing out of the market sphere. Here's one way we could do that. Tags: housing
100
Gratitude is a trap - Apr 10 (736 words)
How dare you criticise a system that provided you with the means of criticising it in the first place? You should be grateful. Tags: inequality
99
Why Peter Thiel praises monopolies - Apr 9 (1747 words)
Thoughts on Peter Thiel's political belief system and the unstated assumptions buried within it. Tags: startups, ideology
98
Eero's fire sale - Apr 8 (1178 words)
The seemingly singular story of a distressed startup's acquisition which inadvertently reveals the con embedded within capitalism. Tags: startups, working-in-tech
97
Workplace surveillance - Apr 7 (865 words)
Workplace surveillance is more than merely an issue of privacy. It's about power, and control, and deepening a relation of class domination. Tags: startups, class-struggle
96
Hedge fund manager Ray Dalio thinks that capitalism needs to be reformed. Who cares. Tags: inequality
95
When the seas rise - Apr 5 (1736 words)
I have still not come to terms with the fact that things could be catastrophic, and I'm not sure how I ever could. Tags: personal
94
When gatekeeping is legitimate - Apr 4 (2323 words)
Some amount of gatekeeping in tech is valid, because not everyone is suited for every role. The problem is when the incentives are distorted by economic factors. Tags: ideology, working-in-tech
93
Reflections on today's Bloomberg piece about YouTube's unwillingness to stop recommending toxic videos in order to preserve high 'engagement'. Tags: big-tech
92
It's time to make money, which means: cost-cutting, layoffs, and a desperate rush to turn the product into a revenue engine, no matter how much that damages reputation. Tags: startups, working-in-tech
91
If tech job postings were honest - Apr 1 (460 words)
For execs: money, more money, and protection from getting #MeToo'd. For contractors: tepid pay and working conditions, but if you complain you get fired. Tags: working-in-tech
90
March recap - Mar 31 (1281 words)
A summary of the last 31 posts. Also: subscribe to my newsletter! Tags: recap
89
Art should be free - Mar 30 (1129 words)
Free art is not something that can be achieved in the here-and-now, but the demand makes a political statement about the kind of world we want to live in. Tags: public-services, intellectual-property
88
The envy of the failed entrepreneur - Mar 29 (1256 words)
One easy trick to counter criticism of a social system: by dismissing the critics as being motivated by jealousy, rather than reason. Tags: startups, personal, meritocracy, jason-calacanis
87
The rise of the Instagram influencer - Mar 28 (2078 words)
And what it says about our economic system. Tags: advertising, startups, personal
86
Rent-seeking as a service - Mar 27 (1117 words)
The geniuses of Silicon Valley have become the thing they fear the most: tax collectors. Tags: public-services, big-tech, intellectual-property
85
McDonald's $300m purchase of Dynamic Yield captures how startup valuations have become increasingly unmoored from any desirable reality. Tags: startups
84
Boots Riley's 2018 film 'Sorry To Bother You' is not just a piece of speculative fiction - it depicts a dystopian future that's already here. Tags: class-struggle, startups, gig-economy
83
An illustrated guide for those concerned that they're too privileged to join a union. Tags: class-struggle, startups
82
Not all millennials - Mar 23 (676 words)
You'll find no shortage of articles on the proscribed economic prospects of millennials. It may be true for the majority, but if you're in the minority, it's confusing. Tags: personal, the-left, meritocracy
81
Fintech startup 'Earnin' may be a glorified payday lender, but it's managed to evade regulation by collecting tips instead of interest. This is ... not good. Tags: startups, financialisation
80
If you have a boss, you need a union - Mar 21 (1772 words)
Kickstarter employees are trying to unionise, but some senior staff are claiming that a union doesn't make sense because they're too 'privileged'. Tags: class-struggle, startups, working-in-tech
79
Three cheers for financial assets - Mar 20 (1956 words)
Bill Gates has joined the $100b club. Lyft is going to IPO at over $23b. You can trade municipal bonds without even doing any research on them. Tags: inequality, financialisation
78
Why are Asians so good at school? - Mar 19 (1930 words)
On the material factors behind the overrepresentation of Asian-Americans at prestigious high schools in NYC. Tags: meritocracy, inequality, immigration
77
When it's time to refactor - Mar 18 (1574 words)
A programming analogy for how we could see the failures of modern-day capitalism. Tags: working-in-tech
76
Making US immigration fair again - Mar 17 (1546 words)
Everyone knows the system is broken. Wouldn't it be great if we reformed it in such a way as to benefit capital? Tags: personal, immigration
75
Enterprise AI: We're hiring! - Mar 16 (1118 words)
San Francisco is filled with billboards advertising little more than the idea of working at a tech startup. Tags: startups, working-in-tech
74
In 'The Man in the High Castle', one of the characters, John Smith, went from fighting the Nazis to becoming a high-ranking Nazi official. Tags: the-man-in-the-high-castle, the-left
73
Is UBI the answer? - Mar 14 (1660 words)
The UBI proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang is responding to a very different question from what the left is asking. Tags: us-politics
72
An illustrated guide to the proper reaction to tragic news from various parts of the world. Tags: ideology
71
A collection of responses to the elite college admissions scandals. Tags: meritocracy
70
Just tell me what to do - Mar 11 (1243 words)
Sometimes I don't know if I should be prepping for the collapse, fighting to avert it, or just giving up because nothing I do will matter anyway. Tags: personal
69
Corn: the source of all value? - Mar 10 (1400 words)
What does it mean to say 'labour is the source of all value'? Why does Marx promote the labour theory of value, when a 'corn theory of value' would be just as mathematically valid? Tags: class-struggle
68
The struggle is ongoing - Mar 9 (842 words)
Reflections on the oft-ridiculed liberal idea that we live in 'the end of history', and what that meant to me personally. Tags: personal
67
A brief tale illustrating the tragic consequences of misunderstanding who creates value in a society, told through a series of tweets. Tags: startups, jason-calacanis
66
Homeless? There's an app for that - Mar 7 (1662 words)
The great delusion of startup culture is that basically every problem can be solved with a startup, even a social problem like homelessness. Tags: startups, housing
65
Capitalism and freedom - Mar 6 (1214 words)
Why do free market ideologues think capitalism is the best way to achieve freedom, and how should the left respond? Tags: ideology, class-struggle
64
Even, a fintech startup that offers payday loans, presents itself as tackling poverty. In reality, it's merely profiting from it. Tags: startups, financialisation
63
Free software, free ethics - Mar 4 (1643 words)
Did the free software movement sell out? Or was its vision of a software commons a doomed proposition from the outset? Tags: intellectual-property, ideology
62
Class denialism - Mar 3 (1552 words)
The grand delusion of modern-day liberalism is that it denies the existence of distinct economic classes, instead opting to pretend that we're all in it together. Tags: class-struggle
61
Brief interviews with HR - Mar 2 (1060 words)
A series of imaginary conversations with HR at various unnamed tech companies. Tags: working-in-tech, david-foster-wallace, fiction
60
An imaginary conversation with a representative of an unnamed gig economy company. Tags: gig-economy, david-foster-wallace, fiction
59
February recap - Feb 28 (1475 words)
A summary of the last 27 posts. Only 10 months to go ... Tags: recap
58
Bank of Uber - Feb 27 (1321 words)
A rundown of Uber's forays into the world of finance, and what that tells us about the system that gave rise to Uber. Tags: gig-economy, financialisation
57
The downside of tech IPOs - Feb 26 (1454 words)
This year's lineup of high-profile tech IPOs is going to be really, really bad for anyone who wants to live in the Bay Area and doesn't have access to IPO money. Tags: startups, inequality, housing
56
Analysing the dubious business model of a real-life startup, Cobo: a 'two-sided marketplace for working out of homes during the day'. Tags: housing, startups
55
Life under fascist rule - Feb 24 (1121 words)
In the alternate history TV series 'The Man in the High Castle', most of 1960s America simply accepts Nazi or Japanese rule as a fact of life. Why don't they resist? Tags: the-man-in-the-high-castle, ideology
54
Capitalism, empathy, and punishment - Feb 23 (1173 words)
Capital has many weapons at its disposal, but it takes a profound lack of empathy to actually pull the trigger. Tags: class-struggle
53
Without their permission - Feb 22 (1427 words)
Startup founders love to flout the rules, assuming it's best to ask for forgiveness, not permission. But they're not breaking the rules for the right cause. Tags: class-struggle, startups
52
I was marching - Feb 21 (726 words)
On Meridel Le Sueur's celebrated essay of the same name, about her experiences during the Minneapolis truck drivers' strike of 1934. Tags: the-left, class-struggle
51
You say you're a socialist, but ... - Feb 20 (1394 words)
How can socialists claim they care about workers' rights but still use their iPhone? Easy: because socialism is a method of systemic critique, not a description of personal consumption habits. Tags: the-left
50
Gatekeeping in the tech industry - Feb 19 (1129 words)
On the 'computer priesthood', negative solidarity, and the story of a hit man who kills other hit men so he can make more money. Tags: ideology, class-struggle, intellectual-property
49
Why is J.K. Rowling so rich? - Feb 18 (850 words)
Because modern-day capitalism is extremely bad at effectively allocating resources. Tags: intellectual-property
48
Fleshing out the catchphrase that began as a Twitter joke but has since become part of my larger political project. Tags: class-struggle, big-tech
47
'Old people' are not the problem - Feb 16 (854 words)
Generational war is a poor substitute for class war, because it misdiagnoses the cause of the problem. Tags: class-struggle
46
Operation Barbarossa - Feb 15 (1643 words)
Fleshing out a (possibly tenuous) parallel between capital's relationship to labour & Germany's 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. Tags: ideology, class-struggle, the-man-in-the-high-castle
45
Mainstream US politics is a great illustration of how not to solve the prisoner's dilemma. Tags: class-struggle
44
What the prevalence of advertising fraud tells us about the business models of platforms like Google & Facebook, and why advertising is core to capitalism as a whole. Tags: games, advertising, big-tech
43
When a tip is not a tip - Feb 12 (2108 words)
On DoorDash's institutionalised tip theft policy, and how that undermines the implicit contract that gives it legitimacy. Tags: gig-economy, class-struggle, ideology
42
People of wealth - Feb 11 (522 words)
On Howard Schultz's recent suggestion to refer to billionaires as 'people of wealth' instead. Tags: class-struggle
41
When everyone else is an NPC - Feb 10 (1619 words)
On Dynasty Warriors, and the political implications of treating other people like NPCs. Tags: games, ideology, class-struggle
40
Exploding the contradictions - Feb 9 (828 words)
More on Erik Olin Wright, and how his theory of 'contradictory class location' could be relevant to tech worker organising. Tags: class-struggle, working-in-tech
39
No map is available - Feb 8 (1119 words)
On Erik Olin Wright and his idea of a socialist compass. Tags: personal
38
The limits of consumer action - Feb 7 (1615 words)
Instacart workers recently organised against a change in pay structure, and won. Bizarrely, some saw this as a victory for consumer action. Tags: gig-economy, class-struggle
37
Gaming frequent flyer programs - Feb 6 (2481 words)
As airlines' products have gotten more and more consumer-unfriendly - made possible through consolidation and shareholder pressures - their loyalty programs have become more like games. Tags: financialisation, personal, games
36
Leaping into the unknown - Feb 5 (1946 words)
An attempt to explain why I latched onto left politics after ragequitting tech. Tags: personal, the-left
35
Selling shovels - Feb 4 (1944 words)
On Silicon Valley and the new California Gold Rush. Tags: startups, class-struggle, personal, advertising
34
The Super Bowl - Feb 3 (1687 words)
The 53rd Super Bowl took place today, in the Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, in an exciting display of ads interpersed with a bit of football. Tags: advertising, mark-fisher
33
An ad on every surface - Feb 2 (1405 words)
The logical endpoint of capitalism is a world where every inch of existence is both commodified and contains an advertisement for something else. Tags: advertising
32
The Viewer In The High Castle - Feb 1 (2469 words)
Thoughts on the TV adaptation of The Man In The High Castle. Plus: a previously unpublished essay on why this sort of dystopian science fiction is important. Tags: the-man-in-the-high-castle, david-foster-wallace, cultural-criticism
31
January recap - Jan 31 (2445 words)
A summary of the last 30 posts, and a glimpse of topics I'll be writing about next month. Tags: recap
30
Today in tech news: Apple fires a warning shot at Facebook for violating its app store policies. And the wheel keeps spinning. Tags: game-of-thrones, big-tech, advertising
29
The Lucas Plan & Silicon Valley - Jan 29 (1861 words)
In the 1970s, workers at Lucas Aerospace came up with a plan to repurpose the company's equipment to build more socially useful products, while also bringing it under worker control. Tags: class-struggle, big-tech, working-in-tech
28
Tech workers and journalists, unite? - Jan 28 (1156 words)
Google and Facebook didn't cause the demise of journalism, but they are hastening it, and hurting journalists in the process. But it doesn't have to be this way. Tags: class-struggle, big-tech, advertising
27
Making kings out of startup founders - Jan 27 (1738 words)
The legitimating myth of Silicon Valley suggests that successful entrepreneurs deserve their untold wealth because they created value for which they should be rewarded. Tags: startups, ideology, big-tech, gig-economy, inequality
26
Reflections on Fyre Festival - Jan 26 (1985 words)
Entrepreneur (and scam artist) Billy McFarland was a product of his system, and he has more in common with 'legitimate' entrepreneurs than they'd like to admit. Tags: meritocracy, startups
25
Some problems arise due to the larger socioeconomic system, and introducing technical innovations won't help unless they actually change that system. Tags: startups, inequality
24
Capital knows who the enemy is - Jan 24 (1335 words)
Labour is often confused about where its class interests lie. But capital never forgets. Tags: class-struggle, big-tech, ideology
23
What makes a diamond necklace worth $150 million? Why does everyone act as if it is worth anything at all? Tags: financialisation, ideology, cultural-criticism
22
A materialist analysis of RuneScape - Jan 22 (1703 words)
The materialist analysis that no one asked for but that I've been wanting to write for ages. Don't ask why. I won't be hurt if you don't read this. Tags: games, meritocracy, financialisation, personal, cultural-criticism
21
The 'click' - Jan 21 (1599 words)
What brought me to the left was finding a cognitive 'click' when I discovered big-t Theory. Tags: the-left, personal, david-foster-wallace
20
One of the justifications behind the rise of the financial industry is that it provides liquidity. But liquidity isn't always a good thing. Tags: financialisation, public-services
19
The world's richest couple - Jan 19 (2762 words)
Sure, MacKenzie Bezos should get half of Jeff Bezos' Amazon stock. But in an ideal world, that would be worth nothing. Tags: liberal-feminism, big-tech, financialisation, ideology
18
On scooters - Jan 18 (1422 words)
Scooter startups should not exist. If we want scooters, they should be a public service. Tags: startups, public-services, inequality
17
There's a storm coming - Jan 17 (1520 words)
The 2008 financial crisis showed us what happens when your models are incomplete. Tech companies have a similar problem, but with class struggle. Tags: financialisation, big-tech, class-struggle, gig-economy, batman, underdogs
16
Need to get your driver's license renewed, but don't want to spend 6 hours waiting in line? There's an app for that. Tags: gig-economy, startups, ideology, inequality
15
The idea of 'pre-tax income' is a pernicious myth that has led to some really dumb libertarian takes around 'taxpayer money'. It needs to be abolished. Tags: inequality, ideology, public-services, personal
14
Advice for anyone considering doing a masters degree on the topic of inequality. Tags: personal, inequality, career-advice
13
Tech startups may start out with good intentions, but the process of gaining wealth and power comes with existential risks. Tags: underdogs, batman, startups, meritocracy
12
What a lawsuit over gender discrimination in the top echelons of Silicon Valley reveals about the weakness of liberal feminism. Tags: liberal-feminism, inequality
11
The overnight test - Jan 11 (1359 words)
On Linds Reddings' 2012 blog post 'A Short Lesson in Perspective', which reflects on his 30 years in the advertising industry and concludes that it wasn't worth it. Tags: advertising, career-advice, personal, working-in-tech
10
Take the job, but organise - Jan 10 (1207 words)
Have the option to work in tech, but concerned about the ethics of the industry? There's a solution for that: organise. Tags: working-in-tech, class-struggle, career-advice
9
Remember who the enemy is - Jan 9 (1465 words)
On Mark Fisher's 2013 blog post about The Hunger Games & why it's still relevant today. Tags: mark-fisher, the-hunger-games, ideology, class-struggle, cultural-criticism
8
Revenge of the nerds - Jan 8 (1679 words)
Reflections on Paul Graham's 2003 blog post about nerds, and what it illuminates about the tech industry today. Tags: startups, ideology, personal, underdogs
7
A truly diabolical startup idea that I really hope never actually materialises. Tags: inequality, startups
6
Dialectical banter - Jan 6 (1567 words)
A compendium of bad jokes about politics, philosophy, and other things, featuring myself and @tlornewr. Tags: personal, the-left
5
Musings on the concept of upward mobility, and how it's used to excuse inequality, no matter how stark or unjustifiable. Tags: inequality, meritocracy, gig-economy
4
But what if we used drones? - Jan 4 (2379 words)
The US needs neither a border wall nor drones. Plus: a previously unpublished piece on 'illegal' immigration. Tags: immigration, startups
3
Some inchoate thoughts on organising Silicon Valley's shadow workforce and why it matters. Tags: class-struggle, working-in-tech, meritocracy
2
2018 in retrospective - Jan 2 (1437 words)
A highly curated summary of things that happened to me in 2018. Tags: personal, immigration, writing
1
Why I'm doing this - Jan 1 (1081 words)
Why I'm making myself write a blog post every day in 2019. Tags: personal, mark-fisher, writing