“Zero Edition.” Author David Yoon: NPR


Everyone jokes about just ditching the internet after some data breach, outage, or other frustration revealing how much our lives are all about. Such as David Yoon In his new account he writes about a fictitious platform called Wren – and only the name could be fictitious:

Everyone loved her, everyone hated her. People used it to get news. For gossip. Social plans. Eating Tips. Political views. Acquaintance. the shopping. Driving directions. Blabbla … the people could not stop themselves. They said they were Passionate.

Zero version It’s the story of tech workers who disrupt the internet – and high-tech processors don’t like that word – with unexpected consequences. It is David Yeon’s first novel for adult readers, and it is about a scientist who knows him well.

“I worked in technology for over a dozen years, as a web designer in the early days of the Internet and then as an expert in user experience,” he says. “And I’m not just designing the push-and-button interfaces, but also how to attract customers and how to get them to do the things the business wants them to do, as opposed to what the users themselves want me to do. So there were a lot of psychological considerations in my job.”

Interview highlights

On the protagonist Max and his fearsome company

Max is the protagonist of the story. It’s this shiny, sort of, a dozen technically perfect. He really wants to be like the next Steve Jobs. And he believes technology can make the world a better place. He works for this fictitious company, Ren. It discovers that they are doing some very suspicious thing with user data, and selling it to ghosts and spy agencies. The whistle is triggered. And what happens is he is immediately kicked out and blacklisted from the entire industry he worships. So he’s in this tremendous crisis of faith, and he has to sit there and think about what he’s going to do with his life. And what he wants to do is take revenge on the people who kept him out of the tech industry he loved so much.

About the idea that technology makes a lot of money – but it produces nothing

Technology – and I paraphrase the novelist Ted ChiangWhich I kind of adore – he says technology and capitalism are so intertwined that it becomes difficult to separate them. And in my opinion, technology is almost like a pure form of capitalism because it is in this cloud and it expands to infinity and you can have billions of users and it seems endless and infinite. And when you get to that level of abstraction, you know, you’re not selling anything. Are you selling what, engagement? Eyeballs and impressions? These are not tangible things.

About how hard it is to stay offline these days

These huge corporations have always brokered modern American capitalist life … we were afraid of credit card companies and phone companies in the past. The image we used to have was, for example, banks with thousands of employees kind of faithfully writing down what they say – it’s kind of funny, now that we have voice recognition technology and auto transcription, that picture gets much smaller, maybe it fits your phone. And the fact that all your connections, not just business connections, but your friendships and dating – like the things that really matter to you are brokered through these giants. It really should give us a little pause, at least, to ask why do we need so much technology and so much infrastructure just to be friends with someone?

On Max’s streak about “When we stop looking each other’s eyes, bad things happen.”

This was kind of something else … Max realizes, that when you build a system for normal humans that doesn’t really match our normal human instincts – which are small groups, intimate eye contact, being in a room together – when you pull that identity and create a system that is largely anonymous, Think about driving your car, for example. You take millions of people and turn them into vehicles, and they stop being human and you end up with things like road rage. It doesn’t end up with things like, you know, the supermarket aisle pretty rage.

So the Internet has more or less the same effect, but on a much larger scale. It gets much easier for a bad actor, under an anonymous profile, to have a huge impact on a lot of people. I mean … Q is an excellent example of this. How big an impact can someone have, through thick and thin.

About the writing challenge for adults

I think adults are more interested in exploring unstable things. You know, yeah I think, mostly, teachers and librarians – who are the people who buy these books, buy YA – are looking for teachable moments that they can present to students and say, this is what we learned about racism recently, this is what we learned, you know, anything in Humanity. And so they’re dealing with a kind of familiar, teachable, and adult-world type of deal with the unknown, the unsolved, and the unsolved.

And the Internet, in my opinion, is largely unresolved. It’s this huge thing that we built, not in response to a specific problem, per se, apart from “providing a distributed network that was immune to attack during the Cold War situation.” But then, it wasn’t really built to solve any particular problem. It created a bunch of problems. It made a bunch of cool stuff, too. But in my opinion, the jury is still out, so was it worth it?

This story was edited for radio by Ed McNulty and Samantha Ballaban, and adapted for the web by Petra Meyer.

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