AMP for Email

Google recently unveiled a set of proposed upgrades to email. For New York Magazine’s tech section, I wrote about where it went wrong – most notably, that it should not be possible to “unveil” upgrades to a standardized communication platform in the first place.

The biggest flaw is simply that it can’t reasonably be called version two of email. That isn’t Google’s fault — version two of email doesn’t exist anywhere else either. We aren’t even trying. That is such a profound moral failure that maybe technical failure was also inevitable. And so a lukewarm quasi-open standard pushed by a monopoly interest punts our indefensible collective apathy right into the next generation, deeply broken and silly and misguided but also, embarrassingly enough, still the best we say we can do.

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This is in many ways the spiritual successor to a previous article I wrote about the continued stagnancy of email.

Net Neutrality

New York magazine’s tech blog Select All let me go wayyyy overboard explaining why internet application protocols like http:// and ftp:// intrinsically fight for net neutrality even with the FCC does not.

Networks are made of computers, and computers take instruction. They do as they are told reliably until they break, and for decades now, what we have told them to do is move information around as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is for two reasons: practical, because at the dawn of the internet it was important to squeeze bits over the limited bandwidth of dial-up modems; but also elemental, because designing any technology with intentionally suboptimal performance is self-evidently idiotic, so nobody does it — aside from the current FCC, apparently. Nonetheless, for the most part, the internet’s underlying application-layer protocols try to run as quickly as possible. This will remain true unless the internet is completely rebuilt atop a different foundation.

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Opinions Are Like Software Applications

For New York magazine, an attempt to explain how Apple’s institutional priorities can be understood by looking at its source code, and what that might mean for the big pending legal battle with the FBI over encryption in the iPhone:

One reliable peril of advanced technologies is that the details of implementation usually aren’t yet common knowledge among most people — often including judges and lawyers, regrettably — but the compulsion of speech, or software-as-speech, isn’t made any more acceptable simply because fewer people know how to interpret it. The FBI’s demands in this case rely on that confusion: Its application for the order to compel Apple to provide them with the custom software states that “writing software code is not an unreasonable burden for a company that writes software code as part of its regular business.” This phrasing contains a subtle gamble: that both the courts and the public will conceive of the software as a tangible artifact produced by an incomprehensible factory in the clouds, rather than fully considering its design and development a coordinated act driven by human motivations, politics, and principles.

Email Is Immortal

On the occasion of its inventor’s passing, I wrote up a theory for New York about why it has been so hard for a more modern email replacement to take off.

That is, it will remain impossible to build a better communication system until the primary goal is actually communication itself. But by and large, we don’t invest much in creating new open standards, specifications, and protocols around which entirely new classes of tools can be built — we’re too busy trying to sell apps! The funding structure of the technology world is largely set up to fight interoperability.

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Four Tet

I’ve been glued to Four Tet‘s lovely new album There Is Love In You for the past couple weeks (“Love Cry”, wow) and I chatted with Kieran Hebden for New York Magazine’s Vulture blog.

Many rock bands have moved toward incorporating electronic sounds over the past decade or so. Do you think that has left listeners more open to your music?
Yeah, definitely. When I started out ten years ago, people thought about electronic music and they instantly thought about quite extreme ends of it. Synthesizers and drum machines, lots of digital processing. Nowadays, everything is mixed together a lot more, and people don’t even know what they’re listening to.
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Dinosaur-Elephant

mastodon

I just interviewed Brann Dailor, drummer for Atlanta metal quartet Mastodon, for New York Magazine‘s pop culture blog.

Why all the thematic complexity?
It allows us to go to a bunch of different places artistically; there’s just more to experience. Putting out a record without any of that stuff would be short-sighted, like you didn’t put everything you had into it. With each album you get to try it again and get it more cohesive and more thought-out and more psychedelic.
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