All tech, all the time

Going e-postal and other tales of the technological revolution. Plus: Blood-spurting penises and mushrooming: adventure sport for the elite?


There are those who would argue that too much print is devoted to the topic of technology. It does seem that a senseless glut of gadget reviews and CEO profiles are spilling out from our printing presses and server rooms. But how else are we supposed to come to terms with the sweeping revolution that is taking over our lives if not by communicating it as it happens?

I am reminded of D.H. Lawrence, who frequently would step out of his novels’ plots and characters (quite notably in “Lady Chatterly’s Lover”) to reflect on what the Industrial Revolution meant to the English countryside he grew up on. Today, his worries seem quaint. But they are a useful reference point. Like Lawrence, we are struggling to understand and explain the changing landscape of our culture. Future readers may look upon these stories and chuckle at our naiveti and excessive verbiage. For now, let’s take a moment to immerse and confuse ourselves in this brave new world.

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Seattle Weekly, Dec. 16-22

“Option envy” by Soyon Im

This is not a typical “Everyone’s getting rich off the new economy but me” essay; instead, Soyon Im bluntly discusses her desire and inability to keep up with a city being transformed by new wealth. The gap in spending power between her and her newly enriched friends has been insurmountable. It led to the breakup of one relationship and much soul-searching about her decision to be a poor but proud writer. Her desire to get rich too isn’t greed, per se, but fear of being left out of her social circle.

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Long Island Village Voice

“A Trip Down The Scary AMAZON.COM” by Mark Fefer

It’s easy to forget this, as you’re hurriedly surfing the Internet for that perfect present to give to Auntie May, but somebody actually had to write those 25-word e-commerce descriptions. Mark Fefer talks to three of the freelance “content providers” who have been hastily reviewing toys for One writer tells Fefer: “I’d be looking at one of these no-purpose gelatinous balls with hunks of plastic floating around in it, made in some sweatshop in Singapore, and think, ‘What am I supposed to say about this?’ … Sometimes my approach was, ‘Let’s see what it would take to break this.’”

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Metro Times Detroit

“Rethinking ink” by Curtrise Garner

Here’s some big, exciting news for all those fools with Loony Toons cartoon characters inked into their skin: Thanks to laser surgery, tattoos are no longer permanent. This is technological innovation at its finest. It takes a common problem (“This tattoo is no longer cool”) and provides help where there once was only misery. Oddly enough, the writer of this piece naively asserts that the only people who have and would like to get rid of tattoos are Gen Xers who fell prey to “a major fashion trend of the ’90s.”

Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, Dec. 15-21

“Rage Within the Machine” by Mike Mosedale

Don’t shoot your boss, just spam his or her fat, overpaid ass! An employee at American Express Financial Advisors’ Mutual Fund and Certificate Transaction Line recently announced his resignation by emailing a 3,500-word “manifesto” to more than 800 of his co-workers. The memo raged against the company’s policies and the tyranny of cubicles among other things. Reporter Mike Mosedale insightfully notes: “The episode highlights an intriguing departure from the old-school method of showing one’s disgruntlement on the way out the door — flipping the bird, hollering at the top of one’s lungs, or, in extreme cases, ‘going postal.’ It also provides a sharp counterpoint to employers’ increased use of technology to track workers’ productivity and behavior. According to a 1999 survey by the American Management Association, 45 percent of major U.S. corporations engage in electronic monitoring of employees … But the very same technology that would seem to give Big Brother the upper hand allows the peeved proletarian to disseminate his own message.”

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S.F. Weekly, Dec. 15-21

“Online Pirates of the Caribbean” by Jack Boulware

When old laws and new media collide, injustice inevitably occurs. Due to a 1961 law that prohibits placing bets over phone lines, gambling over the Internet is currently considered illegal in the U.S. Jack Boulware gives a fascinating glimpse into how this has affected the lives of three former San Francisco options traders. They thought they were operating aboveboard when they moved to Antigua to operate an online gambling site. Now they’re considered fugitives.

“Mushroom crowd” by Silke Tudor

I have long been baffled by the passion of mushroomers. What on earth possesses people to get so worked up over “discovering” fungus? Then, as I was hiking through a redwood forest this weekend, it hit me: Mushrooming is adventure sporting for the elite! It requires education, ample leisure time and sophisticated culinary taste. And, once every year or so, you hear of some rich bloke eating the wrong mushroom and keeling over at the dinner table. Mushrooming is less strenuous than climbing Everest, but equally stupid and pretentious. Alas, none of these observations are in Silke Tudor’s piece on mushrooming, which provides plenty of kinder insights into the world of mycology fanatics.

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Boston Phoenix, Dec. 16-22

“Borderline behavior” by Al Giordano

Smart and thorough political reporting from the Boston Phoenix. Al Giordano looks at current U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow’s involvement in Pinochet’s Chilean military regime and explores current accusations that Ambassador Davidow is bending the rules in Mexico as well.

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L.A. Weekly, Dec. 17-23

“Why Did He Cut That Man’s Leg Off?” by Paul Ciotti

Here’s journalistic voyeurism at its best. This story serves no better purpose than to entertain you with sick examples of depraved humanity, and it does so very, very well. Paul Ciotti takes us into the world of John Ronald Brown, a former unlicensed sex-change surgeon now serving time for murder. His victim? A 79-year-old man who, as one of Ciotti’s sources puts it, “just wanted his leg cut off so he could get a hard-on.” Brown serviced the senior’s fetish, but the wound developed gangrene and the amputated man died. Murder, amputation fetishes, tales of botched sex-change surgeries with unimaginable results, blood-spurting penises … Does it get any better, or worse (depending on your perspective), than this?

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Note to readers: Alt will be on vacation until the new millennium.

Jenn Shreve writes about media, technology and culture for Salon, Wired, the Industry Standard, the San Francisco Examiner and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, Calif.

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