Matt Neary

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Here’s to the crazy ones

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It’s too bad Apple’s iconic ad didn’t feature one of the prominent postmodern philosophers—maybe Michel Foucault (pictured above), or Jacques Derrida. They’re the crazy ones, the misfits, and the rebels and their intellectual project has a lot in common with Steve Jobs’s campaign. Their approach to social critique led from the same basic worldview that Jobs elaborates in a later interview:

When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same...

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Boats against the Current

Life takes you in surprising directions if you let it. A few summers ago I was living my dream working in tech, but by fall I had started along a new path. In a turn of events that surprised me as much as anyone, I decided to study history.

It was the summer following sophomore year. I was twenty-one and working on a small software development team, leading the design of a higher-dimensional spreadsheet. We made plans to end the summer with a tour of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and Standard & Poor’s. By then we would have a product ready to demo.

As summer neared its end we all made the trip to New York City to show off what we’d built. But by then it was clear that I didn’t know how to lead. I’d let the technical abstractions, rather than user needs, dictate product design. And I let my certainty turn me into a tyrant. I didn’t care what my teammates or our users said, because I...

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Instafamous

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Warhol said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” He was onto something. The nature of fame has changed a lot since then, because the nature of the media has changed. Warhol was working in an age of mass media—as is so well captured in his art. We now live in the age of democratized media and democratized media have democratized fame. The users of these democratized media, like Instagram, live partly in a virtual copy of the world. As in the work of Warhol, fame generates icons, and these icons take on a life of their own. In Dead Celebrities, Living Icons, cultural critic John David Ebert suggests that this is the very transformation Warhol anticipated:

Indeed, looking back over the various biographies of the celebrities we have covered in this book, it becomes clear that they represent the pioneers, as it were, of the current mass exodus into hyperreality...

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The Space Race Was Never About Science

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In the twentieth century space exploration reached its zenith during the Cold War. Although many saw this as a high point in the pursuit of science, it was in fact never about science at all. At this point, space exploration was revealed to be about two things above all. First, space was made the arena for a new sort of competition between nations. While America and Soviet Russia were engaged in a cold war, space exploration became the scale by which to measure the effectiveness of the two countries and, in fact, by which to measure the effectiveness of their respective paradigms of governance. America set out to prove that a free society will ultimately outperform a centrally-planned communist regime. This was not obvious.

Additionally, space was rightly perceived as a realm with great power for war and peace. The conquest of space as satellites were pushed into orbit around the...

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