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Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

Behold the Zenith Z-19

October 5, 2016 | by

Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago.

The Zenith Z-19.

The Zenith Z-19.

The Zenith Z-19 is not a computer. It’s an end point of memory and desire, a vanishing horizon, a terminus, a terminal. It is also certainly not a monitor.

In 1979 my family’s Zenith Z-19 sat dull-eyed on a whitewashed, built-in desk in my parents’ L-shaped bedroom in New Hampshire. That year I was ten, and I was never not at that terminal. I beheld my Zenith Z-19 as I never had, and never will, not even close, observe a great painting or statue at Angkor Wat or the Vatican. I will never gaze at the aurora borealis that way—something as wordless, undying and not mine as the night sky? Frankly I find it hard to believe stars hold more than the polite interest of other people.

Was it flat? It was, to the touch. You could jab in, past the hard, battleship-hued casing, touching a rectangular screen with pleasing dimensions that drew on the golden mean. Whatever static my fingers lifted, I remember it as minor, but I distinctly remember the uppermost layer of that machine’s complexion to be petal-soft and cool—poreless, scaleless, hairless, but vibrating with life like a mammal. I can see it now, in a cramped image, on my tarty MacBook pixmap, where the old terminal’s recessive palate seems despairingly out of place. On Wikipedia, the screen plays as olive drab—but drab it was not. Read More »

Before the Blast

September 8, 2016 | by

How expats fashion online identities while living in a war zone.

All photos by Deni Ellis Béchard.

A shop owner jokingly points a toy gun at the author in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley. All photos by Deni Ellis Béchard.

All wars have their aesthetic: the grainy newness of the World Wars, the photographer up close, in mud or water, his speed and fear palpable in the washed-out, often blurred images of men; the Cold War a stark espionage mystery, less action than mood, its clues hidden in the diplomatic formality of competing decadent powers; Vietnam a single black-and-white photo so horrifyingly violent it punctured the jingoism of American imperialism and showed its nihilistic core; and Afghanistan, its online presence as garish as the Las Vegas skyline—street shots and selfies transmuted by the virtual gears of social-media editing, their contrast, sharpness, and saturation jacked up until followers feel as if their neurons are feasting on the very opiates that keep the Taliban in business. 

And each war has its signature story. Afghanistan’s coincides with the rise of social media. In the online world where banal weekend jaunts resemble the Odyssey and afflict followers with post-feed depression—the feeling after seeing glistening legs on a beach or a sunset clipped by an airplane’s wing (not, notably, the cramped economy seat or credit-card bill)—establishing a social-media presence in a war zone is more than self-fashioning; it’s reincarnation, maybe even creation ex-nihilo. Expats’ Facebook and Instagram avatars often emerge as if by divine birth, leaving followers unable to fathom how that bookish college friend wound up motorcycling around Kabul or hiking the Hindu Kush with a few smiling local dudes in pajamas who, to the untrained eye, are obviously Taliban. Read More »

Of Course Hemingway and Wolverine Fought Crime Together, and Other News

August 22, 2016 | by

Wolverine with Ernest Hemingway, duh.

  • Say what you will about Ernest Hemingway, the guy knew how to market himself. He’s remained in print for many decades after his death, which is no mean feat—but more impressively still, he’s found a second life in the comics, where his boastful machismo thrives. Robert Elder writes, “I found him battling fascists alongside Wolverine, playing cards with Harlan Ellison, and guiding souls through purgatory … He’s appeared alongside Captain Marvel, Cerebus, Donald Duck, Lobo—even a Jazz Age Creeper. Hemingway casts a long shadow in literature, which extends into comic books. It’s really only in comics, however, where the Nobel Prize winner gets treated with equal parts reverence, curiosity and parody … In the forty-plus appearances I found across five languages (English, French, German, Spanish and Italian), Hemingway is often the hypermasculine legend of Papa: bearded, boozed-up and ready to throw a punch. Just as often, comic book creators see past the bravado, to the sensitive artist looking for validation.”
  • In the past five years, the Internet has gotten really good at this whole “angry mob” thing—just ask Gawker’s former editor in chief, Max Read, who watched as the digital media slowly recalibrated its approach to privacy: “Not so long ago, it was actually sort of okay to publish a short excerpt from a celebrity’s sex tape to your otherwise mainstream gossip blog. ‘Okay’ is relative here, of course … Still, the extent of mainstream condemnation was cheeky expressions of disgust … What was okay (if naughty) in 2012 is, in 2016, regarded as indefensible. The reaction to the enormous judgment against Gawker makes it clear where public opinion now lies: in sharp if muddled defense of privacy rights, even for public figures. But what has changed isn’t just the outer boundary of what’s appropriate to publish, but where it can be published. Gawker’s biggest mistake in a way was that it had failed to realize that it was no longer the bottom-feeder of the media ecosystem. Twitter and Reddit and a dozen other social networks and hosting platforms have out-Gawkered Gawker in their low thresholds for publishing and disregard for traditional standards, and, even more important, they distribute liability: there are no bylines, no editors, no institution taking moral responsibility for their content.”

Shanghai 1962

August 18, 2016 | by

How my mother’s accordion led to a chance encounter in Mao’s China.


For years my parents have told me about a photograph that shows my mother shaking hands with Zhou Enlai, the first premier of China under Mao Zedong. The photograph was taken in 1962, four years before the Cultural Revolution began, but it was lost until a few weeks ago, when a barrage of Instagram notifications, texts, e-mails, and WeChat messages alerted me that the picture had been found. It had turned up on Facebook, of all places, in a post detailing the history of my mother’s grade school in Shanghai. (A point of recent pride: Yao Ming, the basketball player, was a student at the same school, albeit decades later). An aunt of mine who lives in Hong Kong forwarded the picture to my father, who then distributed it across the Internet.

In the picture, my mother is fourteen. Her hair is in a low ponytail and she has an accordion strapped over her shoulders. She wears a checked knee-length skirt, a white blouse, white ankle socks, and Mary Janes. Several rows of Chinese flags fly in the background; in front of these stand many smiling girls holding bouquets of flowers. All eyes in the picture are on Zhou Enlai as he grips my mother’s hand. He’s tall and handsome, in a Mao suit and strappy sandals. Her smile is easy and uncalculated, bordering on surprise.Read More »

An Emotional Performance

June 23, 2016 | by

How the Internet makes memoirists of us all.

Jean Alphonse Roehn, Portrait of an Artist Painting Her Self Portrait

Jean Alphonse Roehn, Portrait of an Artist Painting Her Self Portrait

I can’t recall the last time I didn’t know a writer’s face. See me pasting bylines into Facebook to find an essayist’s profile picture. Watch as I dive through tagged photographs to find out which school a reporter attended, what his partner looks like. Is his Twitter account verified? Is he famous enough to justify being verified? Usually I’m less interested in the plain fact of, say, a writer’s ethnicity or what kind of pet she owns than I am in her presentation of those facts. Of course sometimes I’m just nosy, but more often, I’m looking for reasons to trust or distrust a writer’s work. I don’t really believe in objective narrators anymore, but I still care to look for reliable ones. Read More »

“I Will Not Be Trifled With!” and Other News

April 30, 2015 | by


Adolf Emil Hering, Wilhelm II, Deutscher Kaiser, 1910.

  • Finnegans Wake, in all its difficulty, was onlycrying out for the invention of the web, which would enable the holding of multiple domains of knowledge in the mind at one time that a proper reading requires.” A wealth of new projects online aim to help readers parse, demystify, and/or grapple with the text; “maybe, just maybe, future generations will look back on early discussions of Finnegans Wake’s unreadability and wonder what the hell was the matter with us.”
  • Borges’s “The Library of Babel” has been re-created online, too, in the form of a site that, if it’s ever completed, “would contain every possible combination of 1,312,000 characters, including lowercase letters, space, comma, and period … The library creates a tantalizing promise of reason—somewhere in its pages are all the works lost in the burning of the Library of Alexandria, and every future masterpiece—but drowned out by infinite pages of nonsense.”
  • A lost 1972 interview with Ray Bradbury, animated for Blank on Blank: “People need you. Go on TV. It can be done. After you speak up a few times, people say, ‘Hey, we got a crazy man in the community,’ and they’ll begin talking to you.”
  • A new documentary, Even Though the Whole World Is Burning, follows W. S. Merwin’s attempts to plant a forest of palm trees in Hawaii. “For forty years, [he] planted a tree every day that he could, restoring nineteen acres of land in Haiku, Hawaii, even as it seemed the world might well be ending, first from military conflict and then from ecological crisis. The film is a chronicle of a man struggling to make meaning through tiny, trembling acts.”
  • Kaiser Wilhelm II liked to talk—a lot. “Virtually everything the Kaiser said, no matter how risible, was recorded and preserved for posterity … he cajoles, whines, demands, vociferates and babbles, bombarding his interlocutors with fantastical geopolitical speculations, crackpot plans, sarcastic asides and off-color jokes. Reading Wilhelm II on every conceivable subject … is like listening for days on end to a dog barking inside a locked car.”