‘Shutting People Out Is an Important Part of Being a Shut-In.’

Photo by PixaBay
Photo by PixaBay

With Alfred, you no longer have to open the door for the Instacart delivery: A worker comes into your apartment and stocks food in your fridge. You don’t hand off your dirty undies to a Washio messenger; Alfred puts the laundered undies in the drawer. This all happens by paying your Alfred $99 a month, plus the goods and services at reduced cost through Alfred’s hookups. Alfred won first place in the TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference last year.

Shutting people out is an important part of being a shut-in: When signing up, customers can choose the option of not seeing their Alfred, who will come in when they’re at work. Alfred’s messaging is aimed at sweeping aside any middle-class shame.

“We’re trying to remove the taboo and the guilt that you should have to do it,” says Alfred’s CEO Marcela Sapone over the phone. “We’re empowering you to let others do it for you. You’re the manager of your life. It’s against the stigma of ‘People use this because they’re lazy.’ Absolutely not. They’re using this because they’re extremely busy.”

Lauren Smiley, in an essay for Matter about the “sharing economy,” where anything and everything is now deliverable with a single click. Smiley sees the on-demand economy as less about sharing and more about serving, creating a world where one is either “pampered, isolated royalty,” or a “21st century servant.”

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We Were Awful to Monica Lewinsky But We’d Like to Think We’d Act Differently Today

Photo by TED Conference, Flickr

Ms. Lewinsky was quickly cast by the media as a “little tart,” as The Wall Street Journal put it. The New York Post nicknamed her the “Portly Pepperpot.” She was described by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times as “ditsy” and “predatory.”

And other women — self-proclaimed feminists — piled on. “My dental hygienist pointed out she had third-stage gum disease,” said Erica Jong. Betty Friedan dismissed her as “some little twerp.”

“It’s a sexual shaming that is far more directed at women than at men,” Gloria Steinem wrote me in an email, noting that in Ms. Lewinsky’s case, she was also targeted by the “ultraright wing.” “I’m grateful to [her],” Ms. Steinem said, “for having the courage to return to the public eye.”

Had the Lewinsky story unfolded today, certainly the digital reality of it would have been worse (or at least more pungent). “They would have dug up her private photos,” said Danielle Citron, a law professor and the author of “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace.” But there would have also been avenues to push back: more outlets, more varied voices, probably even a #IStandWithMonica hashtag.

“If it happened today, I think the consensus that she deserved to be thrown under the bus would be considerably weaker,” said Clay Shirky, a journalism professor at N.Y.U. who studies Internet culture. “And the key thing that’s changed is not information — there were credible press reports about Cosby for years, just as Clinton’s denial was ridiculous on its face — but the ability to coordinate reaction.”

Jessica Bennett, profiling Monica Lewinsky for the New York Times. Lewinsky has reemerged in the public sphere as of late, reclaiming her story and recasting it as a narrative about the price of shame.

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Autograph Collecting as a Feat of Historical Inquiry

Photo by Gary McCabe, Flickr

The graphing community [“graphing” is a term for the craft of autograph seeking] is one of uncommon depth, into which people have spent decades carving their fiefdoms and burrowing out their niches, whether that be players in the single-A Midwest League or members of the Whig Party. Flam’s fellow grapher Rich Hanson supervises inspections at a meatpacking plant in Monmouth, Illinois by day and occupies his nights and weekends by graphing minor leaguers in the region, a pursuit he supplements by also collecting the signatures of American authors and of Civil War personalities. He’s got Johnny Clem, a drummer-boy for the Union Army who enlisted at age 12, and James Shields, who challenged Abraham Lincoln to a duel that never came to fruition. Their scrawls are perhaps more aptly described as signatures than as autographs, since they were left behind incidentally rather than at the solicitation of a fandom.

Indeed, Flam’s and Hanson’s collections are feats of historical inquiry, of the innately human impulse for record-keeping more so than celebrity worship. Whereas the cachet of a Derek Jeter autograph, for example, is attributable to the same preoccupation with fame that brought us paparazzi, these graphers follow more in the tradition of Herodotus or Audubon. That is, they aspire above all to documenting the simple fact of their subjects’ existence (grandiose accomplishments aside) at a certain point in time. How else can one explain three decades chasing the Burlington Bees’ backup right fielder who will play out his career in obscurity?

John Stillman writing for Vice Sports about the weird, noble world of true autograph collectors.

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Karl Ove Knausgaard on the Benefits of a Work-Driven Life

Photo by Stephanie Valdez.
Photo by Stephanie Valdez.

The Protestant work ethic here was very familiar to me. Johannes hadn’t had it, and probably not Magnus either; they had been cheerful men with more dreams than they had will to realize them, at least my grandfather. My mother’s mother had the work ethic, and she had passed it on to my mother, who had just retired, and who missed her job in the same way, as she put it, a cow misses its pen.

That, too, is something I have inherited. I can’t be unoccupied, I can’t take a vacation, I can’t relax; even reading a book, which is actually part of my job, makes me feel guilty. It’s not work, it’s enjoyment. At the same time, and this is obvious, what lies behind this need to be occupied is not just a moral sensibility; working all the time is also a way to simplify life, to parry its demands, especially the demand to be happy.

-From Part Two of Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s travel narrative through the Midwestern United States for the New York Times Magazine.

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The Loaded Expectations and Hopes of a Fan Relationship

A group of gymnasts at the 2008 Olympics. Photo by Wikimedia Commons
A group of gymnasts at the 2008 Olympics. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

The fan relationship is often built on expectations and hope, however unfair they might be. My expectation going to Dominique [Moceanu]’s hotel that night in 1998 was that she’d come down from her room even after a long day of training and competing, and grant me an autograph or, if I was really lucky, a picture. My hope was that somehow she’d see how much we had in common – Isn’t Anne Frank’s diary so beautiful and sad? I’d ask, right there in the hotel, and we’d immediately bond. My celebrity crush is Leo, too – natch! I’d say while we watched “Titanic” together.


The fact of the matter is that Dominique and I are not best friends, not the way I’d once dreamed we would be. But I also realized that I no longer even wanted that, to the extent that it was ever possible, because that would mean I would have to shed the last remnants of that fan’s adulation to see her as an equal. Of course, I have a relationship with her that I would’ve died for when I was a kid. Instead of sending American flag-decorated letters into the ether, I can e-mail or text or call – Happy birthday! Your haircut looks awesome! How are the kids? – and Dominique will respond. Together, we’ve created something that we’re immensely proud of, a series that will hopefully inspire generations of young gymnasts in the way that Dominique inspired me.

Young adult novelist Alicia Thompson writing in Narratively about her relationship with gymnast Dominique Moceanu. Thompson idolized Moceanu growing up; years later the two wrote the childrens’ series Go-for-Gold Gymnasts together.

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‘I Feel Very Strongly That Almost the Entire City Has Copied My Glasses.’

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

I feel very strongly that almost the entire city has copied my glasses. I went to a fashion show during fashion week, and everyone there had on my eyeglasses. Warby Parker has also copied my eyeglasses.

Here’s what started happening: A few years ago, kids—and by which I mean, my friends kids—started coming up to me and saying, ‘Fran, where’d you get those vintage glasses?’

And I said, ‘They’re not vintage. I’ve just owned them for a long time. They are vintage in the way I am.’

I’m not unhappy that everyone has copied me. There was a period when everyone was wearing those black, oblong glasses. These are better.

As with my perfect white shirts, it never occurred to me that they’d stop making my original tortoiseshell eyeglasses—the ones I started with—but then they did. So now I have glasses that are like the originals, sort of like the originals, kind of like the originals…I have made several attempts to recover what I once had.

Fran Lebowitz, talking style with Elle’s Kathleen Hale. Other highlights of the interview include Lebowitz’s thoughts on Hillary Clinton’s style (“She has no style, zero”); men in shorts (“disgusting”); and what would happen if women tried as hard as drag queens (“We’d be a much more attractive culture”). For more of Lebowitz’s wonderfully singular take on the world, see this 1993 interview with the Paris Review.

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Rise of The Gender Novel: It’s Complicated

Photo by Ted Eytan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

At The Walrus, Casey Plett calls for more depth in transgender characters in contemporary literature, arguing that cisgender authors writing sympathetic, yet trope-laden transgender narratives might be doing more harm than good.

To get it out of the way: the Gender Novels fail to communicate what it’s actually like to transition. Their portrayals of gender-identity struggles are ham-fisted, and despite the authors’ apparently good intentions they often rehash stale, demeaning tropes: a coy mix-and-match of pronouns; descriptions of trans women as fake and mannish; the equation of gender with genitalia and surgery; a fixation on rare intersex conditions that allow for tacked-on, unrealistic transition narratives. (Many intersex people, those born with atypical sexual or reproductive characteristics, don’t transition from one gender to another; as well, Wayne’s self-impregnation—a major plot point in Annabel—is a medical impossibility.)

All of which is frustrating but unsurprising. What’s surprising, even flat-out weird, is how alike all the protagonists are. Their lives unfold almost identically: they grow up in unsupportive families; their fathers are domineering or distant; their mothers are kind but frail. When they come of age, they leave humble hometowns to find new lives in the big city. They rent crappy apartments, work menial jobs, detach from their families, and fall in with crowds good and bad. Most of them are physically or sexually brutalized.

Each protagonist is a chosen one, a lone wolf plodding on against adversity. They do no wrong; they remain gentle and stoic in the face of difficulty. Whatever imperfections they show are forgiven, usually by dint of gender trouble…This might make for inspiring reading, but it’s odd to spend a few hundred pages with someone who goes through hell and emerges with all the flaws of a Disney hero. The reader scarcely knows anything about the characters’ inner lives.

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More stories about the transgender experience