Amanda Palmer released another one of her intense, thought-provoking stream of consciousness blog posts, touching on her friend’s struggle with cancer, her own struggle with her first book, and her decision to avoid reading her own book reviews but to read Lena Dunham’s book reviews instead: “every barb, compliment or dagger that goes into her soft book heart….i can just pretend they’re being aimed at me.”
And then she writes this:
i’ve snuck into some recording studios in the past few weeks to record various weird things for various weird reasons. i wrote a song for jason webley’s kickstarter, i made some songs for a compilation coming out for christmas, i recorded some things that have been burning a hole on my pocket for a while. i’m hoping to get them out into the word soon, but like thom yorke and U2 and every other musician on the planet, i’m flying by the seat of my pants, not totally sure what the right delivery mechanism will be in two weeks, in two years, ever. everything feels unstable. the only think i can trust is that someone out there might want or like me or trust my talent enough to support my song-making endeavors. that’s something i can hold onto.
It’s something I didn’t quite realize was in the back of my mind until I read it.
We don’t know.
I think all the time about whether I’ll have this type of job in two weeks or two years. (Two weeks? Absolutely. Two years? Um.) The way we interact with the written word changes just as quickly as the way we interact with the vocalized one; it mutates and shifts so subtly that we can think “remember when people used to type URLs into their browsers instead of collections of words, remember when people used to read blogrolls instead of Facebook news feeds” and we can sort of remember it but not quite, because it was stored in the part of our brains that didn’t keep things that mattered.
There’s a strange, wonderful short story by Donald Barthelme about a balloon that appears one day on Fourteenth Street and grows, like a low-hanging blimp, until it covers a good deal of Manhattan. It becomes an object of widespread puzzlement and fascination. Children leap across its surface. Art critics analyze its colors. City officers conduct secret nighttime tests to better understand it.
For the past couple of weeks, Fort Greene has been living out its own strange version of “The Balloon.” On a handful of corners, seemingly overnight, bike racks have appeared. And not just any bike racks, but city bike racks. Or is it citibike racks? These, in any event, are the bike racks that we’ve been hearing about for months, the harbingers of New York’s new bike-sharing system—apparently called Citi Bike℠— that will, depending on your perspective, transform the city into either an Elysium of convenience and health or a corporate-sponsored hell-scape.
The bikes themselves, though, won’t arrive until late May. Which means that for a while here, we’re living with a kind of accidental urban art installation. There the racks sit—sometimes on sidewalks, sometimes in what were, just hours before, parking spaces—like rows of water fountains designed by Donald Judd. They have no present function except to irritate, to excite, to bewilder.
My neighbors and I stand peering at them, arms defensively crossed, asking each other, “Who’s going to ride all these things?” “How much will it cost?” “What about helmets?” “What about parking?” I have, in the weeks since the racks appeared, heard more public conversation about gentrification and urbanism than in all the years that I’ve lived in New York. Barthelme’s city-dwellers decorate their balloon with paper lanterns and obscene fliers; we adorn ours with anxiety and indignation.
An Equifax partner company called The Work Number has been compiling paystub-by-paystub salary histories, furnished by employers, for one-third of U.S. adults. Sometimes they sell that information to debt collectors. Sometimes they disclose it to landlords. Sometimes they give it to your new employer to confirm what you actually made at your previous employer. Sometimes they ask your permission first, which they are supposed to, but sometimes they don’t.
Are we not ready for robots, or are robots not ready for us?