Siva Vaidhyanathan

  • The Poverty of Theory

    Some people will go through spectacular contortions to ignore politics and its role in the global economy. Technology just changes. Social change just happens.

    Imagine a world that had never experienced the spice trade, colonialism, the slave trade, mercantilism, racism, two world wars, and a “cold war.” Envision a global matrix of trade and commerce that did not emerge via massive state investment (in some countries) in public education and universities; massive state investment (ditto) in military technology, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund; and enormous state support

  • Mind Games

    “I’M GONNA WASH THAT MAN RIGHT OUTTA MY HAIR,” I sang in a full voice from the back row of a University of Texas lecture hall, over the heads of fifty cringing undergraduates. It was the spring of 1995, and I was the oldest student (by at least five years) in a history course called United States Culture, 1945–Present. That day we had a guest lecturer, an American-studies professor who had produced award-winning books on documentary expression in the 1930s and on postwar Broadway musicals. His lecture was on the importance of the latter. He had just asked the room if any of us knew any Rodgers

  • Rage Against the Machine

    There is no such thing as “the Internet.”

    That is to say: Thinking, writing, and speaking about “the Internet” as if there were such a thing as a distinct, global, open, distributed “network of networks” that can connect all of humanity as soon as we can all get “online” leads us to ignore many inconvenient facts.

    In most of the world, digitized network communication is not so open, not well distributed, and not necessarily run through the sort of computer networks that serve as the foundation of “Internet” communication in the United States. When you send a message via the AT&T mobile 4G

  • Planet of the Apps

    In his manual for a better (or, at least, for his own) life, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9–5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, self-help guru and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Timothy Ferriss outlines his secrets to a productive and wealthy life. One of the book’s central tenets is to “outsource everything.” Ferriss suggests we hire a series of concierges to triage our correspondences, arrange travel and restaurant reservations, contact old friends, and handle routine support tasks in our lives. Ferriss contracts with concierge companies in India to handle much of his data flow. He suggests

  • I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59

    Books about corporations tend to stick to a few tried-and-true formulas. Many read like sports stories: Companies win with visionary leadership and by being smarter and showing more gumption than their competitors. Some of these accounts are anthropological treatments—thick descriptions of what it’s like to work within the unique culture of a firm. Then there are the angry tirades about the damage companies do.

    Google, in many ways the most significant company of our time, has been the subject of books in each of these genres in recent years. Ken Auletta told the “great man” story of the