Doppelganger: a trip into the mirror world

Read Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World by Naomi Klein

Not long ago, the celebrated activist and public intellectual Naomi Klein had just such an experience—she was confronted with a doppelganger whose views she found abhorrent but whose name and public persona were sufficiently similar to her own that many people got confused about who was who. Destabilized, she lost her bearings, until she began to understand the experience as one manifestation of a strangeness many of us have come to know but struggle to define: AI-generated text is blurring the line between genuine and spurious communication; New Age wellness entrepreneurs turned anti-vaxxers are scrambling familiar political allegiances of left and right; and liberal democracies are teetering on the edge of absurdist authoritarianism, even as the oceans rise. Under such conditions, reality itself seems to have become unmoored. Is there a cure for our moment of collective vertigo?

I’m slightly annoyed at this book, because I’d like to review it and recommend it as a nice find, but also everyone has already raved about it (Cory Doctorow, Alice Cappelle and Ben Werdmuller, among others) and it even has a Women’s Prize now. That’s fine, I’ll talk about it still. In Doppelganger, Naomi Klein…

The Startup Wife

Read The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam

Meet Asha Ray.

Brilliant coder and possessor of a Pi tattoo, Asha is poised to revolutionize artificial intelligence when she is reunited with her high school crush, Cyrus Jones.

Cyrus inspires Asha to write a new algorithm. Before she knows it, she’s abandoned her PhD program, they’ve exchanged vows, and gone to work at an exclusive tech incubator called Utopia.

The platform creates a sensation, with millions of users seeking personalized rituals every day. Will Cyrus and Asha’s marriage survive the pressures of sudden fame, or will she become overshadowed by the man everyone is calling the new messiah?

A fun novel with a surprisingly relatable protagonist (and a perfect « love to hate him » asshole of a boyfriend) for the enthusiastic yet very tired startupper that I am. This is a win for my The Storygraph account, as I got the recommendation from their algorithm (and it was pushy about it, too!).

Brotherless Night

Read Brotherless night : a novel by V.V. Ganeshananthan

Jaffna, 1981. Sixteen-year-old Sashi wants to become a doctor. But over the next decade, a vicious civil war tears through her home, and her dream spins off course as she sees her four beloved brothers and their friend K swept up in the mounting violence. Desperate to act, Sashi accepts K’s invitation to work as a medic at a field hospital for the militant Tamil Tigers, who, following years of state discrimination and violence, are fighting for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority. But after the Tigers murder one of her teachers and Indian peacekeepers arrive only to commit further atrocities, Sashi begins to question where she stands. When one of her medical school professors, a Tamil feminist and dissident, invites her to join a secret project documenting human rights violations, she embarks on a dangerous path that will change her forever.

I’ve been on a big of a Sri Lankan binge (…3 novels, but that’s 3 more than usual) recently, and Sashi’s story of becoming a field medic in the middle of the civil war was my favourite of the three. Brotherless Night is an excellent book that got my attention and broke my heart a…

Filterworld: how algorithms flattened culture

Read Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture by Kyle Chayka

From trendy restaurants to city grids, to TikTok and Netflix feeds the world round, algorithmic recommendations dictate our experiences and choices. The algorithm is present in the familiar neon signs and exposed brick of Internet cafes, be it in Nairobi or Portland, and the skeletal, modern furniture of Airbnbs in cities big and small. Over the last decade, this network of mathematically determined decisions has taken over, almost unnoticed—informing the songs we listen to, the friends with whom we stay in touch—as we’ve grown increasingly accustomed to our insipid new normal.

This ever-tightening web woven by algorithms is called “Filterworld.” Kyle Chayka shows us how online and offline spaces alike have been engineered for seamless consumption, becoming a source of pervasive anxiety in the process. Users of technology have been forced to contend with data-driven equations that try to anticipate their desires—and often get them wrong. What results is a state of docility that allows tech companies to curtail human experiences—human lives—for profit. But to have our tastes, behaviors, and emotions governed by computers, while convenient, does nothing short of call the very notion of free will into question.

I found out about this book through an article by The Guardian that copied an extract from it, and I’m planning on eventually posting my full reading notes here eventually. The idea of « flat culture » really captivated me and I could recognize it easily, being used to international travel for work and seeing…