Goldilocks in Cyberspace

Michael Kinsley on people who think they have problems.

Goldilocks in Cyberspace

As breathlessly reported in the new “Circuits” section of the New York Times, two twentysomething writers named Andrew Shapiro and David Shenk were “commiserating over lunch in Greenwich Village one day last summer” over “their problem.” How sad that a summer day in Greenwich Village should have been clouded by a shared problem. And what was their problem? Had they both lost a parent recently? Spent their last nickel? Found out their girlfriends had been White House interns? Been diagnosed with cancer? No. “Their problem: In writing and speaking they spend a lot of time in linguistic contortions, trying to explain that they neither love nor hate technology.”

What a problem! This may well be the most boring problem anyone has ever had. (Or at least, we would like to hear rival claims for that honor.) Still, questions remain. Why the “linguistic contortions”? Exactly what is so difficult about explaining that you neither love nor hate technology? Maybe the problem was getting anyone to listen. (“Who gives a shit? Go away!”) For that matter, why do Messrs Shapiro and Shenk themselves feel such a passionate need to share their lack of passion with others? Why don’t they just continue having lunch with each other, engaging in delightfully desultory, contortion-free conversations, and leave the rest of us out of it?

“How do you like your new DVD player?”

“Oh, it’s OK. I neither love it nor hate it. And what do you think of the new Windows 98 beta?”

“My feelings are mixed. There are good things and bad things about it.”

And so on, as lunch turns into drinks, then dinner, and dusk slowly darkens the summer sky.

Or, here’s a little tip: If there’s a subject on which you have no feelings one way or another, try talking about something else! You’ll be amazed how well that can work!

But no. Instead of these sensible solutions to their problem, the gentlemen have taken the paradoxically agitated step of founding a group–the “Technorealists”–and issuing a manifesto about their lack of strong feelings. The manifesto is on the Web, natch, at, but we are so stupefied by this problem that we are unable to summon the will to click on the link. Somebody tell us what it says. Or, on second thought, don’t.

Technorealism will be seen by history as a tragic movement. Like Goldilocks without Baby Bear, Technorealists roam the landscape, tasting the porridge, always finding it too hot or too cold and never just right. Their linguistic contortions turn into bodily contortions as they literally tie themselves in knots, their desperation for attention doing battle with their determination to say nothing worthy of it. Ultimately they die (not of boredom: of that they’re merely carriers). Their last words are, “Honest, I wish I could persuade you that I neither love nor hate technology. I know you find that hard to accept, but really, it’s true. Technology to me has its good points and its bad points. It’s a mixed bag. I know this is a terribly iconoclastic proposition, and that’s why I’m not asking you to believe it, I’m only asking you to believe that I believe it. Why are you coming at me with that pillow? Urgggghhhh …”

Technorealists Wanted

Now here’s a real problem. Slate is looking for a software developer, or maybe even two, to work on various features we hope to add. Our program manager (i.e., software supremo), Andrew Shuman, says the right candidate will be “a C SQL jockey with two to three years of Web experience.” So the first qualification is knowing what the heck “a C SQL jockey” is. Second is a tolerance for working with people who don’t have a clue what a C SQL jockey is. But if the idea of being surrounded by journalists, instead of the usual computer types, strikes you as appealing rather than appalling, we’d like to hear from you before you come to your senses. E-mail a brief note, your résumé, and a review of any recently published book of poetry to Anyone who actually sends a poetry review is automatically disqualified. Being able to recognize when the editor is making a joke is essential, although actually appreciating the joke is strictly optional. Faking appreciation is always, of course, er, appreciated.

New Pru

Prudence, our advice columnist, has retired, and her column has been taken over by her niece, also named Prudence. We go through this twee song and dance–for an anonymous column written by a fictional character–to alert you to an actual new author and to explain the inevitable change in tone. The new Prudence is younger and of a different gender. S/he brings a somewhat different life experience to the task of solving all your problems. In particular, New Pru is–as s/he admits–not as well versed in macroeconomics as his/her predecessor. On the other hand, New Pru may have deeper insights regarding marriage–having had several more of those than Old Pru. You can go to “Dear Prudence” by clicking here. And you can write to him/her at

Another plug: If you haven’t tried our Web linking game, “Six Degrees of Francis Bacon,” give it a whirl. For Web novices, it’s a fun method to learn your way around. For the Web savvy (or even Web weary), it’s a good way to show off.


All subscribers to Slate are entitled to participate in our discussion forum, “The Fray.” Regular participants in the Fray call themselves “Fraygrants” and have formed friendships that seep out of cyberspace and into real life. A Fraygrant reunion (“Frayunion”) is occurring this weekend in Seattle, featuring a golf tournament, among other activities. Another gathering is planned for July in New York City, with Fraygrants attending from as far away as New Zealand.

A popular Fray thread is the one titled “Books.” Readers choose a book to discuss (currently Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind), elect a Fraygrant to lead the discussion, and have themselves an electronic book group.

Fraygrants have even created their own Web page, entirely outside Slate. Check it out at To get more information about the Frayunions and other Fray activities, go there. Or, of course, enter the Fray and introduce yourself to the gang.

–Michael Kinsley