On the State of “Careers”

Is digital journalism a viable career? Financial journalist and media pundit Felix Salmon says no.

His lengthy and dismal assessment of the future of journalism as a career path — ie, a job where your salary increases over time and you make enough money to support a family — was, shall we say, widely panned by other journalists who think he’s being a negative nancy and discouraging young people from entering the field. Personally, I think things are even worse than Salmon says.

Now, Salmon and I are in pretty good posiitons. Him more so than I, but neither of us is cranking out Examiner.com articles for $0 a pop just to build a portfolio in hopes of landing a staff writer job at a community newspaper that pays less than an entry level job at Home Depot. Neither of us is cranking out 10+ “stories” a day for a clickbait site just to make rent. Neither one of us just got laid off from a major urban daily after 20 years. We’re part of the lucky few that get paid a living wage, or better, to produce journalism.

But it’s not just journalism. The entire economy is now geared towards turning humans into fungible commodities. And it’s hard to build a career in an environment where there’s no point in asking for a raise because there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who would do your job for even less than you do.

This is nothing new to billions of manual laborers who are used to being treated like cogs in a machine. But once upon a time unions were able to help workers actually band together to demand things like predictable hours and livable working conditions. That has changed. but the do what you love mantra managed to turn those few jobs that robots can’t yet do into sub-minimum wage gigs that require graduate degrees.

You might think you can escape this fate by becoming a programmer. But code bootcamps are cranking out hundreds of people who can crank out CRUD apps all day. And when you start to go grey, the tech industry will toss you out like an 8-track tape.

I don’t mean to imply that all precariat — from the middle class white guy with a PhD to Rwandan woman who came to the U.S. with nothing — are equally affected by this mechanization of humanity. But we are all affected.

The answer isn’t in picking the right career for the machine age. It’s changing the system.

Mindful Cyborgs: Meme Culture, Writing, Contemplation, and Parenting with Paul Ford

Writer and programmer Paul Ford joins us again to talk about Buzzfeed, biking as contemplation and future-proofing his kids.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Meme Culture, Writing, Contemplation, and Parenting with Paul Ford, Part 2

Mindful Cyborgs: Part Two of our Conversation with Zeynep Tufekci About Algorithms

This time around I also talk a bit about the 15th anniversary of Technoccult and my struggle to find relevancy in blogging in the 2015.

Download and Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Algorithmic Reverberations on the Feed PART 2

Mutation Vectors 6/21/2014

Jason Leopold

Mutation Vectors is a weekly rundown of my media diet, and occasionally other other random thoughts.


This week’s must read: There is nothing you must read this week. Feel free to take the weekend off. But if you must read something, I liked Matter’s profile of journalist Jason Leopold. I also like Rusty Foster’s thoughts on the New York Times, the Washington Post and Mozilla trying to to fix online comments in this Daily Dot story:

What they want is “community ownership”—a large group of people with a sense of investment in the community, around the NYT or the Post or whatever. But the only way to do that is to give up a lot of control to the community, and I don’t think what has to be done to really build community ownership is compatible with the mission of a news organization. Essentially the NYT should not be Reddit. The NYT, just by being what it is, already is a million times more valuable to humanity than Reddit—becoming Reddit is not the way forward. […]

Social media ate all of that up, which in my opinion is a good thing. Social media tools turn out to be far better at conversation around media than anything any web site ever built. Social media works because people organize their conversations around people, not media properties. I have my group of friends, and we talk about NYT articles, and Vox articles, and whatever. I don’t want to have separate communities at each of those places.

Of my own stuff this week, I have to say I had fun profiling Metasploit.



I recently finished two books I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t read before: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin and The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. I’m reading Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim right now.

Mutation Vectors 5/31/2014

Laurie Penny is at it again with another must-read this week the European Parliment and creeping fascism. Key line: “Perhaps the greatest trick the Devil ever played was to convince the world that he was really boring.”

Penny wrote that for Vice, which Gawker says is a really shit place to work. In response to the accusations, Vice says “fuck you,” but doesn’t exactly say the article wrong about how much the company pays, only that the salaries are “competitive.” Which doesn’t really mean much in a market where Gawker itself only pays new writers $1,500 a month and is being sued by unpaid interns.

But really, pretty much every media company these days is using tabloid clickbait garbage to subsidize its “real journalism.” But that’s a cold comfort to the people forced to survive by grinding out listicles for subsistence wages, as Paul Ford reminds us in a piece on Medium about the absurdity of viral content farms. You know, like Medium.

And over at renowned content farm The Atlantic Choire Sicha — who founded The Awl, where you can watch bear videos and read about the life and times of ¯\_(?)_/¯ — says the internet basically sucks now but is also amazing.

Oh well, at least Buzzfeed is run by some weird Deleuzian dude. Maybe the whole thing is some Accelerationist plot to make capitalism eat itself faster?

Aaaaannnnyyyyway, my favorite thing I read this week was David Forbes’ piece on the history of Grinding. My favorite thing of my own was my story on Transgress, a tool for routing around the online censorship of information about transgender issues.



I watched Thelma and Louise for the first time this week. I can’t imagine this movie being made today. Which reminds me, you should also read Jacqueline Valencia’s essay on on the need for more lonely women in film. Not that Thelma and Louise is exactly the type of movie she’s talking about, but it reminded me of Falling Down which reminded me of her article.


This week I saw Cult of Zir (above), Alien Parkinsons Project and Sister Mamie Foreskin play at the Lovecraft. The rest of Zir’s show is here.

I’d never heard Sister Mamie Foreskin before but I really dug them. They’re sort of in the same vein as The Soft Moon or maybe Comets on Fire. Their new album is here.

The Rise and Rise of Television Torture

Hansel at Interpet This writes:

But this prevalence of torture that you see in otherwise very comparable shows is not limited to Fringe. It is everywhere in American entertainment now.

Everywhere you see it it promotes the lie that torture works. It does this very effectively. Because usually we, the audience, already know that the person being tortured has the information. They just will not give it up. In real life of course torture is not like that. In the hundreds of torture scenes that have been acted out in popular media only a handful show the victim making things up, and saying whatever they think the torturer wants to hear in order that they stop torturing them. Which is the reason why torture is not a useful tool. The process would be: Torture someone, they tell you something, you double check that story, maybe torture the people they implicate, then you find it out that there story was incorrect, go back to torturing them. Just one round of that might take days or a weeks. Which would make for boring TV.

Full Story: Interpret This: The Rise and Rise of Television Torture

(via Metafilter)

See also:

The politics of the man behind “24.”

Scalia: Fictional TV show justifies legal torture

The Silent History: The strange novel that makes you travel to read it

The Week reports, back in October 2012:

An ambitious new e-book pushes the boundaries of interactive fiction by requiring readers to visit specific locations to unlock new parts of its story
If you want the full experience of The Silent History — a new e-book available on the iPhone and iPad — you’d better get ready to do some traveling. The Silent History is “part medical case study, part mystery novel, and part-real-life scavenger hunt,” says Sarah Hotchkiss at KQED, and the e-book aims to personalize its narrative for each reader. (Watch a trailer for The Silent History below.) The Silent History is divided into two parts: Testimonials and field reports. The testimonials, which are divided into six volumes of 20 chapters each, are automatically unlocked as the story unfolds each day. But the field reports require an unprecedented level of interaction: They can only be read by traveling to specific locations, and readers are encouraged to write and contribute their own localized installments.

Full Story: Yahoo News: The Silent History: The strange new e-book that makes you travel to read it

(Thanks Skry)

The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic

War of the Worlds New York Times headline

From Slate:

The supposed panic was so tiny as to be practically immeasurable on the night of the broadcast. Despite repeated assertions to the contrary in the PBS and NPR programs, almost nobody was fooled by Welles’ broadcast.

How did the story of panicked listeners begin? Blame America’s newspapers. Radio had siphoned off advertising revenue from print during the Depression, badly damaging the newspaper industry. So the papers seized the opportunity presented by Welles’ program to discredit radio as a source of news. The newspaper industry sensationalized the panic to prove to advertisers, and regulators, that radio management was irresponsible and not to be trusted. In an editorial titled “Terror by Radio,” the New York Times reproached “radio officials” for approving the interweaving of “blood-curdling fiction” with news flashes “offered in exactly the manner that real news would have been given.” Warned Editor and Publisher, the newspaper industry’s trade journal, “The nation as a whole continues to face the danger of incomplete, misunderstood news over a medium which has yet to prove … that it is competent to perform the news job.”

Full Story: Slate: The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic

Why One Librarian Banned a Book

Scott R. DiMarco of the Mansfield University of Pennsylvania campus library writes:

The story begins with two staff members and one librarian who enthusiastically created and ran a week of interactive programs for banned book week. The turnout was tepid. A panel discussion on the subject drew six people. Five were librarians and staff members. The sixth was Dennis Miller, our public relations director, who recently published his second novel, One Woman’s Vengeance. As we talked about various books that are still being banned at different locations around the country, Miller said, “You should ban mine. It has sex, violence and adult language.”

He was joking, but his statement emphasized that as long as one book can be banned, any book is a target.

Two of my staff members and one librarian thought it over and came to me a couple days later, suggesting that we should, indeed, ban it during Banned Books Week. We talked over the ramifications and I agreed. We contacted Miller, an ardent opponent of censorship.

He agreed to participate.

Full Story: College and Research Libraries News: Why I banned a book: How censorship can impact a learning community

OMNI Prepares to Reboot

“The greatest science magazine of all time will be back soon,” according to the Twitter account Omni Reboot, which links to omnireboot.com and omnireboot.tumblr.com.

This reboot follows the annoucement that an OMNI art book and gallery tour is on the way. The new site appears to be backed by Jerrick Ventures, which runs Geek Room, and the Guccione Collection.

It’s an interesting situation given that no one knows who actually owns OMNI at this point.

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