News 19.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

News 19.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web
News 19.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web
News 19.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

In the late 18th century, officials in Prussia and Saxony began to rearrange their complex, diverse forests into straight rows of single-species trees. Forests had been sources of food, grazing, shelter, medicine, bedding and more for the people who lived in and around them, but to the early modern state, they were simply a source of timber.

So-called “scientific forestry” was that century’s growth hacking. It made timber yields easier to count, predict and harvest, and meant owners no longer relied on skilled local foresters to manage forests. They were replaced with lower-skilled laborers following basic algorithmic instructions to keep the monocrop tidy, the understory bare.

Information and decision-making power now flowed straight to the top. Decades later when the first crop was felled, vast fortunes were made, tree by standardized tree. The clear-felled forests were replanted, with hopes of extending the boom. Readers of the American political anthropologist of anarchy and order, James C. Scott, know what happened next.

It was a disaster so bad that a new word, Waldsterben, or “forest death,” was minted to describe the result. All the same species and age, the trees were flattened in storms, ravaged by insects and disease — even the survivors were spindly and weak. Forests were now so tidy and bare, they were all but dead. The first magnificent bounty had not been the beginning of endless riches, but a one-off harvesting of millennia of soil wealth built up by biodiversity and symbiosis. Complexity was the goose that laid golden eggs, and she had been slaughtered.

The story of German scientific forestry transmits a timeless truth: When we simplify complex systems, we destroy them, and the devastating consequences sometimes aren’t obvious until it’s too late.

That impulse to scour away the messiness that makes life resilient is what many conservation biologists call the “pathology of command and control.” Today, the same drive to centralize, control and extract has driven the internet to the same fate as the ravaged forests.

The internet’s 2010s, its boom years, may have been the first glorious harvest that exhausted a one-time bonanza of diversity. The complex web of human interactions that thrived on the internet’s initial technological diversity is now corralled into globe-spanning data-extraction engines making huge fortunes for a tiny few.

Read the rest of this article at: Noema

In 2006, Oprah Winfrey couldn’t stop talking about The Secret. She devoted multiple episodes of her talk show to the franchise, which started as a kind of DVD seminar and later became a best-selling book. Its author, Rhonda Byrne, claimed to have stumbled upon an ancient principle, one that can teach anyone to manifest anything they want: money, health, better relationships. Winfrey retroactively credited its core philosophy for bringing her success, and her endorsement helped bring the book international fame: It has now sold more than 35 million copies. But in the era of endless scrolling, an author doesn’t necessarily need Winfrey’s stamp of approval. They just need TikTok.

Keila Shaheen figured this out last year, when her self-published book The Shadow Work Journal began to dominate the app’s feeds. A slim volume, the book purports to help people unpack their “shadow” self—the repressed unconscious—through various activities. In video after video, TikTok users show themselves filling out its exercises and talk about the journal as if it has magical powers. They learn about Carl Jung’s model of the psyche. They circle terms related to their trauma. They heal their inner child! If you use a new coupon on TikTok Shop, the app’s new built-in store, you too can heal, for just a couple of bucks! they say. (Many of those posting earn a commission from each sale, but pay that no mind.)

The journal has sold more than 600,000 copies on TikTok alone, and more than 1 million copies in total, a feat usually accomplished by the Prince Harrys and Colleen Hoovers of the world. Shaheen, a 25-year-old writer with a marketing background, is the new breakout star of the self-help genre. She even outsold Winfrey’s latest book.

Her story began in an untraditional way: Here is a young author, plucked from obscurity by a powerful app’s algorithm during a conveniently timed e-commerce push and turned into a best-selling phenom. Yet her next chapter is following an expected arc. She has signed a multi-book deal with Simon & Schuster to bring an updated version of The Shadow Work Journal to new audiences. Specifically, she is working with the brand-new imprint Primero Sueño Press, which will launch her book as its “flagship,” Shaheen told me, in addition to releasing a new Spanish translation later this year. The self-help queen of TikTok is officially going mainstream.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

News 19.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

“I don’t want all this shit,” shrieks Logan Roy, characteristically hot-tempered, in the opening episode of Succession’s second season. The “shit” in question is platter after platter of shucked oysters, fat orange prawns, and lobsters smothered in garlic butter served up on beds of ice. “Pizza! We’ll have pizza,” Logan commands. And so his staff carry away the dishes teeming with crustaceans and unceremoniously dump them into the bins outside. The emergency pizzas are duly ordered and laid out on the dining table as the Roy family get down to business, but these too remain completely untouched.

In Succession, status is signalled by what characters eat – or don’t eat. When Cousin Greg brings along his arriviste date to Logan’s birthday party – the one with the “ludicrously capacious bag” – Tom Wambsgans quips that she’s “wolfing all the canapés like a famished warthog”. Tom occasionally reveals his own middle-class greed and snobbery through his irrepressible excitement about fine food, as in the scene where he introduces Greg to the pleasures of eating deep-fried ortolan. Later, when he’s threatened with prison time, the first thing he frets about is the “prison food” and the logistics of making “toilet wine”. By contrast, the Roys, the billionaires atop the Waystar Royco media empire, seem to barely eat or drink anything at all.

Read the rest of this article at: Dazed Digital

News 19.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

“The power to change one’s life comes from a paragraph, a lone remark,” James Salter wrote in his 1975 novel, “Light Years.” An encounter with a single “slender” line of writing, as he put it, can send a reader spinning off on a new trajectory; her life becomes divided into a before and an after the moment of reading. For Kevin Maret, an undergraduate art student at the University of Idaho, that moment came while reading “In the Swarm: Digital Prospects,” a slim monograph by the philosopher Byung-Chul Han that was first published in English by M.I.T., in 2017. In May of 2023, while scrolling Instagram, Maret encountered a video gloss on Han’s work; Maret was intrigued enough that he borrowed “In the Swarm” from his university library. Han’s writing, polemical and aphoristic, spoke to Maret’s experience of growing up on social media, and crystallized for him the lack of control he felt regarding his relationship to the Internet. In a recent conversation, Maret pointed out a few of his favorite lines: “The occupants of the digital panopticon are not prisoners. Their element is illusory freedom. They feed the digital panopticon with information by exhibiting themselves and shining a light on every part of their lives.” He told me, of the book, “The first time I read it, I read it in two hours.”

Since then, Maret has kept “In the Swarm” out on library loan and carries it with him like a talisman. “I can put this in a jacket pocket if I walk down to the coffee shop or the field by my house,” he told me. He stocked up on other books by Han: “The Transparency Society,” “Saving Beauty,” and “The Agony of Eros,” which are all written in the same pamphletary format, somewhere between manifesto and essay, and mostly run under a hundred pages. Maret is part of a growing coterie of readers who have embraced Han as a kind of sage of the Internet era. Elizabeth Nakamura, a twentysomething art-gallery associate in San Francisco, had a similar conversion experience, during the early days of pandemic lockdown, after someone in a Discord chat suggested that she check out Han’s work. She downloaded “The Agony of Eros” from Libgen, a Web site that is known for pirated e-books. (She possesses Han’s books only in PDF form, like digital samizdat.) The monograph argues that the overexposure and self-aggrandizement encouraged by social media have killed the possibility of truly erotic experience, which requires an encounter with an other. “I’m like queening out reading this,” she told me, using Gen Z slang for effusive enjoyment—fangirling. “It’s a meme but not in the funny way—in the way that it’s sort of concise and easily disseminated. I can send this to my friends who aren’t as into reading to help them think about something,” she said. Like a Sartre for the age of screens, Han puts words to our prevailing condition of not-quite-hopeless digital despair.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 19.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

FOR ANOTHER FIVE HOURS and forty-seven minutes, I can buy a royal blue Twist Front Cloak Sleeve Slit Back Dress for $5.90, a Striped Pattern High Neck Drop Shoulder Split Hem Sweater for $8.50, or a Solid Sweetheart Neck Crop Tube Top for $1.90. When today’s 90 percent-off sale ends at 8 PM, the crop top will revert to its original price: $4.00. There are 895 items on flash sale. On today’s “New In” page, there are 8,640 items. (Yesterday there were 8,760.) The most expensive dress of the nearly nine thousand new arrivalsa floor-length, long-sleeved, fully sequined plus-size gown, available in five sparkly colorsis $67.00. The cheapesta short, tight piece of polyester with spaghetti straps, a cowl neckline, and an all-over print of Renaissance-style flowers and cherubsis $7.00.

I can buy casual dresses, going-out tops, workout leggings, winter parkas, pink terry-cloth hooded rompers, purple double-breasted suit jackets with matching trousers, red pleather straight-leg pants, cropped cardigans with mushroom embroidery, black sheer lace thongs, and rhinestone-trimmed hijabs. I can buy a wedding dress for $37.00. I can buy clothes for school, work, basketball games, proms, funerals, nightclubs, sex clubs. I see patchwork-printed overalls and black bikinis with rhinestones in the shape of a skull over each nipple designated as “punk.” I click through knockoff Paloma Wool sweaters and Levi’s-style denim jackets. I can buy Christian-girl modesty clothing and borderline fetish wear.

In the grid of product listings, a yellow rectangle indicates if a product is trending: “Trending–Plazacore,” “Trending–Western,” “Trending–Mermaidcore,” and “Trending–Y2K” tags all appear in the new arrivals. “Plazacore” is blazers and faux-tweed in pastels and beige. “Mermaidcore” means a pileup of sequins and glitter. “Western” brings up fringe jackets and bustier tops, fake leather cowboy boots and leopard-print silk blouses. The collection is unimpressive in small doses but starts feeling remarkable as you click through the pages: more than 3,900 items, astoundingly, are “Western.” If I search the word trending, there are 4,800 items to scroll through, labeled with trends I’ve never heard of even after a decade-plus of closely following fashion blogs and Instagram accounts: Bikercore, Dopamine Dressing, RomComCore, Bloke Core. Each phrase alone generates hundreds or thousands of search results of garments ready to purchase and ship.


SHEIN is the world’s most googled clothing brand, the largest fast-fashion retailer by sales in the United States, and one of the most popular shopping apps in the world. Its website is organized into dozens of categories: WOMEN, CURVE, HOME, KIDS, MEN, and BEAUTY, among others, though the women’s clothing section anchors the site. There are hundreds of thousands of products available, and many of them are sorted into SHEIN’s collections. There’s SHEIN EZwear, which is solid-color knitwear and sweatpants with cutouts, and SHEIN FRENCHY, which means delicate floral prints, lace, and bows. SHEIN Modesty shows conservative, long-sleeve dresses worn by Middle Eastern–looking models, and SHEIN SXY, which is indistinguishable from SHEIN VCAY and SHEIN ICON, features garments so skimpy they’re closer to napkins than clothes. SHEIN Belle, the copy at the top of the page tells me, “offers the best dress for your best memory.” It’s incoherent to me at first, but the collection begins to make sense as I scroll: it’s clothing for wedding guests and promgoers, who can buy a velvet dress in the collection for $5.49.

In the SHEIN EZWear collection, I find a crewneck sweater, slightly oversize, with a swirling cotton-candyish pattern of light blues, pinks, and whites laid over a lavender base. It’s $22.00, or $21.85 if I’m in the SHEIN Club. The fabric looks waffle-knit, thin, slightly fuzzy; it’s 100 percent polyester, or plastic. In reviewers’ pictures, I notice the fabric’s wrinkles hold their shape where the top has been folded. At the shoulder seams the swirls clash in different directions. The neck, waist, and armbands are wide, made from several inches of striped knit binding, and the shoulders are dropped, giving the garment a childlike, too-big quality.

A few clicks away is a super-short plunging V-neck dress split vertically from the waist to the hem with ruching. Long straps crisscross in a double X on the open back and cinch the waist in the front. The fabric looks like cotton jersey; it’s 91 percent polyester and 9 percent elastane (100 percent plastic). There are five colors available: black and brown, which are both, apparently, “HOT”; bright pink; royal blue; and emerald green. The photos for each variant are identical, except that the dress’s color changes. The model is photoshopped into Jessica Rabbit proportions, with a tiny waist, wide hips, and enormous breasts, her collarbones jutting out several inches. She is tan and hairless, and she is headless. She poses in front of a bedroom set, crumpled white sheets, ivory macramé pillowcases, and drawings of flowers framed in gold. We see her as she sees herself in the mirror, angled to get a look at her whole outfit. She wears white sneakers, a miniature pink handbag, and a gold necklace with a tiny red cherry charm. Below, under Customers Also Viewed, a sea of identical headless models in black dresses reads like a CAPTCHA image.

Read the rest of this article at: N+1