Jennifer Egan and a Forum update
By Mark Hurst • June 17, 2022

My guest on Techtonic this week was novelist Jennifer Egan, discussing her new book The Candy House, a kind of sequel to her Pulitzer Prize-winning 2010 novel A Visit From the Goon Squad. We talked about her writing process, why it’s an act of resistance to read a book, and why storytelling – especially in literary fiction – might be our best hope for surviving the onslaught from Big Tech.

Listen to the interview:

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The title of the book refers to the deception at the heart of internet business models: the promise of getting something for free, with no downsides. One character reflects on –

that eternal law, Nothing is free! Only children expect otherwise even as myths and fairy tales warn us: Rumpelstiltskin, King Midas, Hansel and Gretel. Never trust a candy house! It was only a matter of time before someone made them pay for what they thought they were getting for free. Why could nobody see this?

The conversation was topical to last week’s column, Citizenship and smartphones, which I’d recommend if you missed it. The importance of reading (for those of us among “the bookish thousands”) is equal to the supreme importance of writing (by fiction writers like Egan). I remain a firm believer in good books – and good bookstores. Far from being a tangential concern for a tech newsletter, I find it to be central to my efforts to raise awareness and make tech better.

Forum update

The Creative Good Forum, our members-only community platform, has been sprouting daily conversations that are worth paying attention to.

You can join Creative Good to gain access to these threads, but even if you don’t, the headlines give a good overview of what’s happening in tech:

• 🔒 Alternatives to Google Sheets, a list of non-Big Tech collaboration tools – the discussion started by Creative Good member @Leftygomez. (This will likely become the basis for an upcoming Good Reports entry.)

• 🔒 The best e-newsletter services, a discussion started by Creative Good member @WMLevy with lots of good possibilities. (Again, maybe for an upcoming Good Reports entry.)

• 🔒 Kids and addictive tech, a thread I started to collect and discuss stories about technology specifically designed to addict kids. (There are 10 posts so far, and more to come, I’m sure.)

• 🔒 The emerging threat of AI “personhood”, a members-only column I wrote about the Google engineer, Blake Lemoine, who has claimed – wrongly – to have discovered sentience in his chatbot. (Subsequent posts point to reactions from more clear-headed people like Emily Bender.)

• 🔒 Responding to crypto hype is our thread for discussing the many, many news stories about the crypto crash – Jay Z and Jack Dorsey working together on an ill-fated Bitcoin project - the strange absence of celebrity pitch people as the Ponzi scheme goes poof – and much more. (It’s nuts in crypto right now.)

• 🔒 New and improved surveillance has entries about GE’s new surveillance-enabled laundry machines, a Senate inquiry into Amazon Ring’s surveillance doorbells and the destruction of privacy, intrusive surveillance embedded in an airport departure board, and more.

• 🔒 A discussion on a simple, reliable toaster – and how 1949 technology is superior what we have today: a thread started by Creative Good member @jillybean.

• 🔒 Spotify’s fake artists and Epidemic Sound, a great analysis by Creative Good member @JJP, in response to Ted Gioia’s column on fake artists. (See also @JJP’s pointer to a media veteran calling for more regulation of streaming: here’s the post.)

• 🔒 Fentanyl deaths, romance scams, endangered animal sales, and other criminal activity that is enabled, if not enouraged, by Big Tech companies. We’re keeping an eye on criminal activity in Silicon Valley in this thread.

I remain convinced that we need a forum like this to grasp the proliferating threats – to young people, to privacy, to democracy itself – coming out of Silicon Valley. Even more importantly, we’re sharing our ideas and pointers to alternatives: better tools, better processes, better values.

I hope you’ll join Creative Good to gain access to this immense set of resources – and to support my efforts to host this community.

To put it another way...

Until next time,


Mark Hurst, founder, Creative Good – see official announcement and join as a member
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Twitter: @markhurst

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