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Something worth reading is something worth sharing.

Critical Linking is a weekly(ish) newsletter of musings of all sorts, plus recommendations for what to read, watch, and listen to.

Why Post Anything?

What do we want from our online content creation?

What do we seek when we’re creating stuff online?

It seems like a simple question, but I’d guess the responses to it would be quite varied. The question could be asked at any point, but it’s an interesting moment to ask it just days after Twitter (sorry, X)(nope, sorry again, still Twitter) decided to hide “likes” from public view.

X now hides your ‘likes’ from other users, whether you like it or not
The platform X is now hiding all users’ likes, with few exceptions. It says the change protects users’ privacy — but critics say it removes a layer of accountability in the process.

Likes and retweets make up the currency of the platform. Likes are pretty much the currency on any platform. They’re how we mark engagement with our content.

It’s as simplistic as it is understandable that we might think the answer to the question is: I want likes.

I don’t create enough on social media accounts to say I’ve ever been much of a likes chaser, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it intoxicating when just a handful of(literally count them on your fingers) likes have rolled in on a particular tweet. I can see why people would chase that feeling. And once upon a time ago, it was a great place to build a following. Not so much anymore.

I’ve decidedly redirected my efforts to this website and its accompanying newsletter. So what is it that I’m chasing?

Readers? Subscribers? Engagement? Some combination of the above is probably the best answer. It’s a return to the early 2000s kind of internet, before social media, when the web was dominated by individual blogs. That moments not coming back, and to the extent that it has tried, it’s probably been seen in the newsletter explosion a few years ago, thanks to Substack.

Caroline Crampton, of The Browser and her own books and newsletters, recently talked about being “in public” as a creative and, more basically, a person.

Going Public
A newsletter from Browser editor-in-chief Caroline Crampton.

Her foray into the attention economy was pegged to selling her most-recent book, A Body Made of Glass:

I started this year fully intending to do this. And I did, for a few months — I showed up on social media, I made videos about my life for the first time and started getting thousands of views for each one, and I said yes to every opportunity to write a promotional piece that I was offered. But as I got more and more tired, and closer to burn out, a question kept plaguing me: what did all of this even have to do with writing a book? As I edited dozens of video clips together to make a 60-second TikTok with enough jump cuts in it that viewers wouldn't instantly scroll away, my doubts grew further.

I just deeply respected her decision to opt out:

So I'm not going to. I will write about what I'm doing, as writing, in my own space, unmediated by other forces. I stopped writing a personal email newsletter several years ago when newslettering became my dream job at The Browser, but now I want to bring that practice back into my days. I want to write about my work to people who have chosen to hear from me and nobody else, with no external forces shaping what I say, how I say it or whether they are able read it. Perhaps I will be leaving potential sales on the table if I retreat from the conventional book promotion hustle like this, but with some reflection I have decided that should that be the case, it will have been a worthwhile sacrifice. That's what I learned from this intense period of publicity: I cannot take part in it while also making work that is worth publicising.

I have only moderate amounts of readers and subscribers, so it’s easy to imagine what they might feel like and assume it’s great. But in this day and age, it doesn’t take too much for that to tip into the undesirable.

This article from Slate sums up the feeling of having too many expectations on you simply because people have chosen to engage with what you’ve produced.

Sorry, but the Writer of Your Favorite Newsletter Isn’t Your Friend
The Substack newsletter boom might be warping your idea of who’s a friend.

It describes the balance between appreciation of the attention and the exasperation.

On one hand, what newsletter creator wouldn’t want their work to resonate with their audience so much that it drives them to reach out? On the other, how does a creator navigate the responsibilities and expectations of a parasocial relationship that formed without their buy-in? Is it now their obligation to not just provide customer service, but be a “good friend”?

So what do I want by creating things online?

Well, nothing much more than I’ve ever said before:

This is probably not normal, and I recognize that. I also realize that I do like the idea of leaving a digital footprint. I think about it when I think about this blog and what I want it to be at the end of the day. Ideally, I want it to be a catch-all for what I'm thinking and reading and doing. This is exactly what some people use their social media accounts for, but I've just never been one of them. I'm not likely to start this late in the game, either. I don't know why one seems better to me than the other, but it does.

If I’m lucky enough to bring a few readers with me along the way, all the better.

What to Read When You’re Stuck

Sometimes you just need a push to get going again.

I found this list of suggested reading list of works to check out if you need a reminder that all creative work is stymied from time to time. It’s useful not just for the recommendations but for the little nuggets it pulled out of them as advertisement for their fit in the list.

What to Read When You’re Out of Ideas
These books dispense practical advice on managing one’s ambitions—or describe the dread of writer’s block with precision and humor.

I especially loved this one from the blurb on Lynda Barry’s What It Is.

The core of the arts is play, Barry argues: something children undertake with great seriousness until they learn to be aware of what others think, which can choke off creativity. But the key, when you’re blocked, isn’t simply to think harder. It’s to relinquish control, “to be able to stand not knowing long enough to let something alive take shape,” Barry writes.

College Days

What if you just kept going to school forever?

Every now and then, I’ll see something that makes me envious, and I’ll jokingly say “It’s tough to see someone else living out your dream.” It’s usually said with a grin and shoulder shrug, like “Whaddaya gonna do?”

I definitely felt that reading a recent New York Times Magazine story about the man who couldn’t stop going to college.

The lede alone had me hooked:

Benjamin B. Bolger has been to Harvard and Stanford and Yale. He has been to Columbia and Dartmouth and Oxford, and Cambridge, Brandeis and Brown. Over all, Bolger has 14 advanced degrees, plus an associate’s and a bachelor’s. Some of Bolger’s degrees took many years to complete, such as a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Others have required rather less commitment: low-residency M.F.A.s from Ashland University and the University of Tampa, for example.

I’ve been to a lot of school compared to most people, but this is wild. But I say constantly: If money were no object, I’d just go to school forever. And here this guy is, doing it.

His backstory is a compelling one. He had severe dyslexia to the point where his mother read assignments to him into college (from which he graduated at 19 with a 4.0 GPA) and into Yale Law School, where their system simply couldn’t keep up.

It feels comparable to seeing a genius in a particular area, and say “I wish I could do that,” but what we’re really saying is that we want the parts of it that seem appealing. We don’t always consider the ways in which that level of genius (or just singular focus on a particular specialty) makes life difficult, makes socialization seem unnatural. Bolger’s home-schooled existence seems to have produced a great academic and intellectual environment, but a line, tossed off quickly in the piece, states that he only had one friend his age as a child. For as appealing as his intellectual development (and the outside-the-box homeschooling that produced) may seem desirable when I think about the results and his countless degrees, I think about the simple joy of childhood friendships and know that it’s not as simple as just saying “I wish that were my educational experience.” As with everything, there are trade-offs.

He’s clearly a supremely intelligent person to have gotten beyond the learning challenge and admitted into such prestigious schools in the first place. But the author struggles, on the page, with the “why” of Bolger’s pursuits. And it’s truly perplexing when the answer comes back: I love learning. The author comes back to it a few times in the piece, and this quote about what the rest of us who “love learning” do hits home:

One thing Bolger has not seemed to learn over the years is to introspect. Why has he driven himself to this extent — to place himself over and over in the kinds of impractical programs young adults enter to wait out a bad economy or delay the onset of adulthood à la National Lampoon’s Van Wilder? Many of us love learning, too, but we don’t do what Bolger has done; we listen to history podcasts on our commutes or pick our way through long books in the minutes before sleep. Despite all his degrees, Bolger has never sought a tenure-track job — only a few of his degrees would even qualify him for such a position — and he has never really specialized.

The piece goes on to highlight how he’s made a career for himself by coaching kids on how to get into the best colleges in the world. It’s one that makes total sense: If he has expertise in anything, it’s the intricate dance of putting together an application packet.

And that’s worked out well for him. Can’t begrudge him for that.

But I prefer to think about his motivation rather than what his schooling has earned him:

“I believe that people are like trees,” he said. “I hope I am a sequoia. I want to grow for as long as possible and reach toward the highest level of the sky.”

Trying Out A New Writing Workflow: Ulysses

In search of the best writing experience

I’ve been writing in a lot of posts and all of my newsletter issues in Bear, which I’ve enjoyed a lot. But I realized there’s a good deal of friction when it comes to publishing to Ghost.

I realized that both Ulysses and iA Writer allow for direct integration with Ghost to ease publishing, so here I am, trying Ulysses because I like the features it offers a little more than iA Writer.

But stay tuned, especially if you’re in the market for a new writing app, because I’ll probably have more to say about it soon.

Spoiler: It seems to be pretty awesome publishing to Ghost with Ulysses.

The Magic of David Kwong

No matter how old I get, close-up magic will never not amaze me.

I learned who David Kwong was when he did one of those in-depth explainer videos for WIRED about how a crossword puzzle is made.

Not too long ago, I subscribed to his email newsletter, Enigmatology, in which he discusses his twin passions of crosswords and magic.

Chicago Opener
“The Enigmatist” in Chicago and a brand new crossword, “Chicago Opener”!

In his latest entry, he shows off a great bit of close-up, an old trick called the "Chicago Opener." The first half of the illusion is so good on its own, but the finale is so confounding, so much fun to ponder, that I just had to shout it out here.

THEN, in a convergence of all my media inputs, Pablo Torre just interviewed Kwong on his podcast to learn more about how Kwong makes a living as an illusionist, on advising and explaining but also not breaking the unwritten rules of magic.

The Unwritten Rules of Magic
EPISODE 111: Inside the illusion industry.

I don't normally suggest watching a video version of a podcast that I recommend (though many have video versions), but this one really benefits from the video. There are a handful of tricks described, namely the very beginning of the episode when Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers gets hit with a nasty one-two punch of a trick that is honestly deserves to be seen rather than explained, and a simple how-to trick from Kwong at the end. Just a lot of fun all the way through.

For more magic-related content, check out the links in this old post from me.

Chess Genius or Genius Cheater?

Hans Niemann was at the center of one of the biggest scandals in the history of chess, and it remains unclear if he's the real deal or a talented fraud.

I can never quite put my finger on why I find chess so fascinating. Maybe lots of people found this to be the case after watching The Queen's Gambit on Netflix: sucked in but not entirely sure if it was the subject matter or the TV show's writing, directing, and acting.

I remember loving Searching for Bobby Fischer back in the 1990s when it came on TV (I want to say ABC, but don't quote me on that; I feel like it was on one of the "clearest" stations, and at my house, that meant ABC on channel 7).

But maybe intuitively I knew this line from a recent New York magazine profile of Hans Niemann:

There are three disciplines in which scientists believe prodigies exist: math, music, and chess.

Perhaps I, too, could sense that, and I was drawn to it, not because I understood it with any personal connection, but because it's such an intoxicating idea. To be a prodigy, though its potential to exist in me is long, long gone, feels like something worth wishing for.

Either way, I loved this story. I've been close to chess storytelling before, and when done well, there's just something imminently readable about it. This piece excels in describing the chess of it all, but it's a much deeper and darker story than simply pawn-takes-rook and checkmates.

Chess Brat: Hans Niemann, One Year After the Cheating Scandal
The grandmaster has been kinda-sorta vindicated. So how is he more disliked than ever?

Former President Trump Found Guilty on All 34 Counts

In his trial for hush money payments to a porn star, Donald Trump is America's first former president to become a felon.

What a day. Who was thinking when they woke up this morning that they'd be living through an historic day?

Trump trial updates: Trump is found guilty in historic New York criminal case
Former President Donald Trump has been found guilty of falsifying business records to influence the 2016 election, a historic verdict as Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, campaigns again for the White House.

In this age of fragmented media, it's all too common (but still weird) to think that not everyone was able to just sit down and watch the news of former president Donald Trump becoming the first former president to be convicted as a felon.

I followed along on the New York Times app and CNN (via Max). Maybe it's profoundly old fashioned of me, but it just felt more real to see it reported on TV, which isn't really a take I'm likely to have about TV news more generally.

CNN's Jake Tapper literally read through all 34 counts, and he was sure to remark how remarkable the moment was in American history. With all the legal proceedings still to come for Trump and the very real possibility that he's elected president in November, I wonder if I'll remember this day, the way I remember watching TV on other huge news days? It's hard to say at this point, but I'm glad I was able to tune in.

MLB Recognizes Negro League Stats

A great day for professional baseball and our data-driven way of talking about the sport.

Major League Baseball's records will now include stats from the Negro Leagues, which ran from 1920 to 1948, and includes some of the most dominant performances in the sport's history.

From The Washington Post:

Stars such as Homestead Grays slugger Josh Gibson now stand alongside the likes of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams in record books that long excluded them. The Negro Leagues stars generally played fewer games than White players of the same era, so the top parts of leader boards for many of the counting statistics (hits, home runs, strikeouts, etc.) are unchanged. But rate stats, which speak to how effective a player was without being subject to scheduling, reveal a much different picture.

Judge Not Lest You Be Judged

Ed Yong talks about what it's like to judge a Pulitzer Prize.

I was drawn into this newsletter post from Ed Yong where he described his experience as a judge for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction books.

The Ed’s Up - On Judging a Pulitzer
Last summer, I agreed to serve on the jury for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction—a group of five writers tasked with selecting the best nonfiction…

I haven't posted recently because I, too, have been consumed with contest judging. It's hardly the Pulitzers, but that surely didn't stop those applying for a chance to be deemed the winner.

Yong captured well the overwhelming feeling that sets in when you have a stack of submissions:

When you’re searching for excellence, even books you might have enjoyed under normal circumstances start looking mediocre, and the process quickly becomes a slog that drains the joy from reading.

I surely wasn't as busy as he and his fellow judges were; he said they judged more than 400 books, which honestly feels like it ought to be a full-time job if it wasn't. I had a meager 80+ submissions to consider, but that feeling of the joy of reading the thing being sapped from you was all too real.

Yong goes on to pry back the curtains of the Pulitzer's process, which is interesting in its own right. But then he also summarizes and makes a case for the winner, A Day in the Life of Abed Salama by Nathan Thrall. It sounds quite compelling:

In his book, the eponymous protagonist Abed Salama learns that the school bus carrying his five-year-old son, Milad, has crashed in the outskirts of Jerusalem. As Salama tries to find his son, he is stymied at every turn because he is Palestinian. In recounting this desperate quest, Thrall, who is a Jewish American journalist based in Jerusalem, offers an incredibly intimate portrait of life under occupation, and the challenges that Palestinians face during both the mundanities of daily life and the heightened moments of tragedy.

I respected Yong's willingness to lay bare some of his thinking after he made the recommendation that helped, in part, the book to be recognized.

While considering the book, I asked myself if I was rating it highly only because it was clearly relevant to the ongoing genocide in Gaza. To an extent, no: Even if the topic wasn’t extremely topical, ADITLOAS would still be one of the most finely reported and invaluably humane books of the year. But in a way, yes: Our task was to find the greatest books, and one that deeply illuminates a generation-defining moral catastrophe surely counts. If ADITLOAS had it come out a year earlier, it would still have been a masterpiece. That it came out now makes it an indispensable one. I’m glad that the Pulitzer Board agreed. They made a bold choice and, I think, the correct one.

I found it all too easy to wonder about how I was judging various pieces, how the timeliness of their subject matter influenced my decision, if at all, and whether it should (or shouldn't). It's a weird position to be given the power to judge after it seems so easy to do so in everyday life.

Yong's description of it was characteristically thoughtful and nuanced, and I'm glad he decided to share, both his experience and the recommendation.

RIP, Twitter

Twitter is officially dead. You know, except for those of us who'll always call it Twitter.

Elon Musk's transformation of Twitter to X may finally be considered complete, now that the actual website resides at www.x.com.

Here are two stories to commemorate the change-over and the final nail in the coffin for one of the most influential brand names in social media.

Twitter.com Is Dead, Long Live Twitter.com
As part of Elon Musk’s ongoing effort to rebrand Twitter as X, the social media company has officially changed its URL to X.com.
Elon Musk Finally Puts Twitter Out of Its Misery
Twitter is fully X.com now. Given its transformation since Elon Musk bought it, that may be a small mercy.

DIY Astrophotography

Space remains the coolest.

I came across a new Twitter account that immediately caught my attention.

This image is mind-blowing.

Below the photo, Machin links to a Youtube video by her husband, Ian, about which telescopes to buy. It was a really helpful breakdown that felt essential after seeing this image they captured. Would love to capture photos a fraction as cool as that one.

I followed both Machin's Twitter account and Ian's Youtube channel.

John McPhee and Words

Simply put, he loves them.

Tabula Rasa: Volume Four
A project meant not to end.

In his most recent piece for The New Yorker, he confessed as much in its opening lines.

In a cogent sense, I have spent, at this writing, about eighty-eight years preparing for Wordle. I work with words, I am paid by the word, I majored in English, and today I major in Wordle.

In multiple places in the piece, you can just tell how much he respects words and their power and how he regrets not a second of his life's dedication to them. Some of my favorite takeaways from the piece were of that playful joy he found in words.

John McPhee's Order of Wordle Answers

  1. Lottery
  2. Luckshot
  3. Insight
  4. Autodidact
  5. Buffoon
  6. D.U.I.

The old master's rating for how quickly one gets the Wordle answer reminded me so much of those triangular wooden peg games, where the goal is to leave one. My papaw had half a dozen of them in a bin at his house, and we'd always marvel at his ability to get it down to the prized single peg.

Cracker Barrels are where I've last seen them, and the games have their own version of this sort of rating system:

  • One peg: Genius
  • Two pegs: Pretty Smart
  • Three pegs: Just Plain Dumb
  • Four or more pegs: Eg-No-Ra-Moose

On His Literary Will

After a long list of examples of things he'd prefer not to be changed in future editions of his books published after he's died, McPhee ends the section with this passage:

My books have been proofread with exceptional care by proofreaders at FSG, by proofreaders at The New Yorker magazine, by myself, and by others. In more than a million words, there are probably fewer than ten typographical errors. Please do not fix one unless textual evidence allows you to be absolutely positive that you have found one of those ten. I warmly thank you for your attention to these words.

I love the confidence this must take to say and even more so the swaggering ability that makes it most likely unassailable.

On Great Writing Being Made, Not Born

He gave his students zany sentences that seem unlikely (if not impossible) for a right-thinking person to write down, and those are good for a laugh. But it's this collection of clunkers from a former New Yorker editor that gives me hope when I lament that my sentences just aren't quite good enough. Because even sentences that end up published in The New Yorker can't begin as indecipherable nonsense.

The late Charles Patrick Crow was an editor of nonfiction pieces at The New Yorker. He did not acquire manuscripts. They were assigned to him after they were bought. With the exceptions of fly-fishing and family, Crow had a distanced, not to say cynical, view of most aspects of this world. He kept in his wallet a little blue card that bore selected sentences from manuscripts bought by the magazine:
  • Very likely, if we knew the answer to this question we wouldn’t have to ask it.
  • Until the orchestra didn’t exist, composers didn’t write music for it, and instrumentalists didn’t form such groups because there was no music for them to perform.
  • Grey-haired, yet crewcut, he was clean, precise and appeared somewhat cold, just as one would expect a surgeon.
  • These two atolls being studied prior to returning the people that had been removed from those atolls prior to the nuclear testing.

On Final Exams and The Hardest Spelling Test

More gamification of words. I loved spelling tests (on paper) and spelling bees (the competition) when I was in school, and while I consider myself pretty good at it, I think I would wilt under the pressure of McPhee's test to his students. How many could you spell correctly? (The really brutal part is that assuredly you'd come close on many of them.)

Moccasin.
Asinine.
Braggadocio.
Rarefy, liquefy, pavilion, vermilion, impostor, accommodate. 
Mayonnaise.
Impresario.
Supersede, desiccate, titillate, resuscitate, inoculate, rococo, consensus, sacrilegious, obbligato.

I love words, and John McPhee loves words, and I love John McPhee.

Coolest Job in the World

Although no one, not a single solitary soul, asked, here's my take: I'd be willing to do it. Probably for cheaper than those on the short list.

I remember watching Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb and thinking, among other things, that EIC of The New Yorker seemed like the coolest gig in the world.

This piece from Semafor's Max Tani on who might succeed David Remnick in that role confirmed it.

Who wouldn't love working in a job describe like this?

The hiring challenge comes in part because of the long list of qualifications leadership, staff, and readers expect from the magazine’s top editor — and in part because of the magazine’s singular role in American liberal intellectual culture, one that is currently being challenged most strenuously by The Atlantic.
In addition to serving as its head of state, the next editor will need to be an intellectual force who can synthesize both the week’s events and literature, arts, and culture. They’ll have to possess an astute editorial mind that can provide a last line of defense on some of the most famously dense and detailed (and occasionally dangerous) journalism now published in a weekly magazine.
The New Yorker’s succession race is kicking off | Semafor
David Remnick, 65, embodies a brand that sits atop American intellectual culture. Who will replace him when he retires?

I'm invested in the decision not just as a journalism nerd but quite literally. The New Yorker is one of the most expensive yearly subscriptions I have. Full stop. No qualifiers needed. I have only ever subscribed during the David Remnick Era, so I have high hopes for his successor.

AI Helps to Win a Pulitzer

This interview with Nieman Lab explores how reporters used AI to assist in reporting that went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. These are the first Pulitzers won with the assistance of AI.

For the first time, two Pulitzer winners disclosed using AI in their reporting
Awarded investigative stories are increasingly relying on machine learning, whether covering Chicago police negligence or Israeli weapons in Gaza

From the piece:

Local reporting prize winner “Missing in Chicago,” from City Bureau and Invisible Institute, trained a custom machine learning tool to comb through thousands of police misconduct files. The New York Times visual investigations desk trained a model to identify 2,000-pound bomb craters in areas marked as safe for civilians in Gaza. That story was one of several that won as part of the paper’s international reporting prize package.

Alice Munro's Art of Fiction Interview

The famed short story writer died on Monday at 92.

Alice Munro shared her insights on the craft of writing with The Paris Review in 1994

The Art of Fiction No. 137
  There is no direct flight from New York City to Clinton, Ontario, the Canadian town of three thousand where Alice Munro lives most of the year. We left LaGuardia early on a June morning, rented a car in Toronto, and drove for three hours on roads that grew smaller and more rural. Around du…

The Potential Collapse of AMOC

I learned about The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation and how it inspired 'The Day After Tomorrow.'

This is just one of those stories I couldn't get out of mind after I heard it.

How Changing Ocean Temperatures Could Upend Life on Earth - The Daily
This is what the news should sound like. The biggest stories of our time, told by the best journalists in the world. Hosted by Michael Barbaro and Sabrina Tavernise. Twenty minutes a day, five days a week, ready by 6 a.m. Listen to this podcast in New York Times Audio, our new iOS app for news subscribers. Download now at nytimes.com/audioapp

The whole thing is worth a listen, but it's the second half that lodged itself in my brain. It starts with clips from a pretty forgettable movie, The Day After Tomorrow (which, somehow, is 20 years old, apparently).

In the film, Dennis Quaid's character suggests that changes to the North Atlantic current could be to blame for massive aberrant weather events. Though I remembered the ice-age conditions that defined the majority of the film, I'd forgotten that it was supposedly caused by changes to ocean currents.

Even if the film weren't largely forgettable, I'm not sure I would have thought it was a scientifically sound theory as a story engine. But as it turns out, that part of the film, if little else, wasn't so far out there.

I didn't know about the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, as the episode calls it. But apparently it's a big deal.

It was cool to learn about how AMOC takes warm water to the north and cold water to the south, and in a sense, helps regulate things as we know it. AMOC, though, is slowing down, and one of these days (nobody is sure when, though the episode says the consensus seems to be it's a long way off) it might collapse entirely.

If it continues to slow (or collapses entirely), twin weather-related terribles happen: Colder water stays in the north, driving down temperatures there, making it a much colder place to live (possibly colder than it was before the Industrial Revolution when humans started emitting greenhouse gases, possibly like roughly 12,800 years ago when AMOC last collapsed and brought on an ice age), and warmer water stays in the south, fueling stronger storms and more rainfall near the equator. These could have dramatic effects on humans living in these areas.

Even though it's likely way in the future, I couldn't stop thinking about this possibility, these trickle-down effects that make so much sense when the science is explained and would have such massive consequences. Maybe it was the movie comparison that made it so visual in my head, but it's one of stickier podcast episodes I've listened to in a while, especially on climate issues.

When Technology Betrays Us

A writer gets locked out of her Google Docs and reminds us how tenuous our online lives can be.

This is probably every person's nightmare: You put your trust in some online service and suddenly it betrays you. Betrayal could come in the form of lax security that ends up with all your information floating around the dark web. We've all been there. But betrayal can also feel more basic: One day, the service just stops working. Some seemingly bright and shiny new app or service simply doesn't have the business strength to keep going and poof. No more access.

Now, that's not likely to happen to Google, one of the most ubiquitous names in all of tech (perhaps that distinction doesn't even matter and it's simply one of the most ubiquitous businesses period). But that doesn't mean there's no way for it to suddenly stop working.

This WIRED story is just that: Google Docs failed a user. But not just any user. A writer.

What Happens When a Romance Writer Gets Locked Out of Google Docs
In March, an aspiring author got a troubling message: All of her works in progress were no longer accessible. What happened next is every writer’s worst fear.

I sometimes lose sight of just how important the Google suite of services (Docs, Slides, Spreadsheets, etc.) is to people because I've been a student again in the recent past and I've worked in journalism. Both of these endeavors require lots of word documents, and Google's free alternative to the Microsoft Office suite of tools was a game-changer.

But how much do everyday folks, not writers or students, open up a Google Doc? Writing this sentence is truly a moment of "Huh, haven't really thought about that before." It's truly just the water in which I swim every single day.

And that's the same story for so many creative types. The WIRED story revolves around one main author (though there are others mentioned who are experiencing the same problem) who cannot access her own writing. More than 220,000 words spread across numerous drafts and projects, suddenly locked up from her.

The interesting thing for writers is the worry that it might have been the content of her writing that was causing Google to restrict access. And while it's a known fact that as we turn over permission to our writing as soon as we opt for that free alternative; as always, we (and our data) are the product when the services are free.

Despite knowing that, I rarely spend much time thinking about the possibility that anyone from Google would actually see what I kept in there. Now, that likelihood is increased because of AI. Perhaps human eyes are just as unlikely to ever read the contents of my Google Drive, but the writing itself could be scraped and stored away, and like the subject of the story, I could be subject to automated moderation and safeguards that deem certain content OK and others not.

The story has no definitive answers for what happened to various users who'd been locked out of their own Google Docs. The mere existence of the issue is scary for writers who 1) might not feel free to write whatever they want and 2) might lose access to the things they've written because of unseen forces.

But I remember that many of us are no safer. We all have thousands of photos of friends, family, events, pets, trips, and more saved digitally that we've trusted to some service, trusting they'll always be there. Same with the way we listen to music, with few of us bothering to buy music anymore but instead simply rent the right to play it from streamers for a monthly fee. The convenience of technology is hard to resist. Most of us don't. Most of us won't. And most of us will be fine with that; we don't actually want to resist.

But it's in reading stories like this one that I value the collection of films I have in physical form, the old vinyl records I can spin whenever I want, and longhand notes in notebooks that can't deny me access (though I could always lose them).

'The Work of Art' Is A Work of Art

Adam Moss delivers a perfect book, plus why introductions are the best.

As promised, The Work of Art by Adam Moss was my latest book purchase.

Oh. My. God. What a beautiful book this is! Just look at it.

I can't wait to just luxuriate in its pages, with so many gorgeously rendered photos, and learn about the creative processes of 43 different artists, from writers and journalists to filmmakers, painters, and more.

I've read through the introduction so far, and I wanted to take a minute to express my love for introductions more generally.

Introductions, along with summaries on back covers and inside dust jackets to a lesser degree, are those parts of the book that hook the readers. Introductions, though, are in the author's own voice. It shows off their priorities and gives insight into what they think is worth leading with. It's a distinct talent to be able to write at a high enough level to properly introduce the entirety of the book and also be entertaining enough to make the reader want to keep going. It showcases a different skill from what's required to write the majority of the book, which prioritizes depth and getting lost in the weeds; introductions can show how well versed an author is in the subject and how he presents his case to the reader: "If you like this, you're going to love the rest of it." They're always one of my favorite parts of nonfiction books.

Moss does a great job setting the stage for the rest of the book, and it's nice how his introduction serves as a microcosm of the book's overall purpose: It outlines his creative inspiration and process. It showcased how the book would be organized, with its helpful red guiding lines to figures/drawings/photos. It benefited from Moss's magazine background, with an innovative layout that will no doubt be sustained throughout the book, and I loved its use of footnotes to articulate and memorialize some of his thoughts as he organized the book.

Paul Auster on Radiolab

The author passed away at 77, and news of his passing spurred an old memory.

When I heard that author Paul Auster had died, I was taken back not to one of his books but to an episode of the Radiolab podcast.

But, for the life of me, I couldn't think of which one.

What I remembered were fragments. I was in law school, because I'd just started really listening to podcasts. So I knew the episode had to be from before 2013. Something he'd said, a story he told, something that was read, had caught my attention and put Auster's name in my mind. Something mentioned The New York Trilogy, because I knew to look for that book at McKay's, the used bookstore in Knoxville, Tennessee, which was my happiest of happy places while I was in school. And at some point, I remember feeling like I'd lucked out majorly when, on one of McKay's shelves, I found it in paperback.

The Universe Knows My Name
In this new short, we explore luck and fate, both good and bad, with an author and a cartoon character.

After a lot of searching, I've come to the reluctant conclusion that this was the episode. (To be honest, this one was the first I found from the simple search strategy of entering Auster's name in the Radiolab search bar.) I just had the memory slightly different in my head.

The story that Auster tells at the end of this episode was related to the first story in The New York Trilogy, called City of Glass, but I was convinced what I remembered was about the second story called Ghosts. So I searched and I searched through old episodes of one of the first podcasts I'd ever listened with any regularity. It was great to revisit some of the stories that made me fall in love not just with the show but with the form of podcasting (although the experience wasn't great for mad-dash searching because the only place to hear those old episodes is on the show's website and you can't listen at higher playback speeds and the search function leaves something to be desired for this sort of task).

All that reluctance flowed from my unwillingness to admit that maybe I misremembered the details. That stung my pride a little bit because it was such a vivid memory, in general, and even more so the memory of finding that book among the stacks at McKay's, which was far from a certainty any time you went into the store (and was part of the appeal: book-buying by way of treasure hunt).

I listened to the final story he shares in the episode, and I try to peer back in time at that long-ago me and wonder, "Is this what so captivated you at the time?" Because I don't hear it now. The story fits well into the show's theme, and it's undeniably interesting, but I don't hear it in such a way now that makes me think I'd immediately go out and look for his book.

This sort of examination of a prior self felt in keeping with many of Auster's themes. As The New York Times obituary says:

“City of Glass” is the story of a mystery writer who is reeling from personal loss — an ever-present theme in Mr. Auster’s work — and who, through a wrong number, is mistaken for a private detective named, yes, Paul Auster. The writer begins to take on the detective’s identity, losing himself in a real-life sleuthing job of his own while descending into madness.

While my mystery was made of tamer stuff, I felt myself coming unraveled as I searched the archives of old episodes, searching for a memory that was probably incorrect in the first place, and wondering what had been going on in my life at the time to become so captivated with the story in the first place. Auster probably could have written something interesting out of that.