Internet Happy Places

At the end of a year in which we could not explore much IRL, team OneZero is sharing our favorite places we found online.

I am old enough to remember March, when we relished those first Zoom calls with our far-flung friends and family members, many of whom we had not spoken with for way too long, all of us hunkered down in different parts of the world, and the chats were filled with foreboding but also a certain giddiness. “This was good, in a way. We should be doing this more often, pandemic or no,” we thought, before realizing…

As small businesses closed and layoffs hit, Amazon expanded its power — despite a string of crises and worker uprisings

A photo of an Amazon package in one of the company’s fulfillment centers.
A photo of an Amazon package in one of the company’s fulfillment centers.
Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty Images

When the Covid crisis went into full swing in March, two trend lines emerged almost immediately: Small businesses were forced to close down, and Amazon started hiring. At the time, I worried that as the pandemic raged we would see an accelerated consolidation of power among the tech companies that rely on part-time gig labor and e-commerce to gain advantage while everyone else hemorrhaged jobs. That decent jobs at vital local institutions would be traded for precarious jobs at a handful of online markets and platforms. I worried that 2020 would be the year of Amazonification.

With independent businesses shuttering…

These 21 books about technology and its impact on society are crucial to understanding our fractious future

A square graphic with the text “OneZero Best Tech Books 2020” placed over a background image of stacks of books.
A square graphic with the text “OneZero Best Tech Books 2020” placed over a background image of stacks of books.

There was a quiet but serious shift in mainstream thought about technology underway this year, even before everything went to hell. Most years, the release schedule for tech books is brimming with startup hagiographies, founder profiles, tech guru memoirs, and business and management tomes, with a few “critical” titles thrown in — your exposés and polemics and kids-are-using-their-phones-too-much tirades.

This year, which I observed from my high and mighty perch as editor of OneZero’s books department, the ratio seemed to be firmly reversed — the blow-by-blow accounts of tech world goings-on, like Steven Levy’s Facebook: The Inside Story, were considerably…

Arecibo is the last gasp of ambitious, publicly funded efforts to understand the universe

Photo: Corbis/Getty Images

When news broke that Puerto Rico’s famed Arecibo radio telescope was going to be demolished, it sent the scientific community into the kind of mourning typically reserved for its most beloved human heroes and pioneers. For many, Arecibo was more than the world’s second-largest radio telescope and a key instrument in our efforts to probe the cosmos and canvas the universe for extraterrestrial life — it was an iconic monument to the last 50 years of astronomy, to science, even human achievement.

Now, it is a death knell.

Arecibo’s decommissioning marks yet another sign that we’re well into a twilight…

If anyone has any ideas about what the hell is going to happen this week, it’s speculative fiction writers

Illustration: Jinhwa Jang

Seemingly infinite branching futures lay before us, most of them bad-shaped. Will the pandemic and wildfires leave us in withered, blasted ruins? Will the new Supreme Court finally transform us into a full-blown theocracy? Will voter suppression continue unabated until election day? Will the militias show up? Will the election — I’ll just stop it there.

Who knows! About any of it! Now is a moment in which everything seems possible, especially crippling anxiety. But while we all wait with bated breath for our hoped-for outcomes, perhaps we can take some solace in considering a few of those infinite futures…

If the Uber-backed ballot initiative passes, it may lay the groundwork for unrest not seen since the onset of the Industrial Revolution

Photo: Robyn Beck/Getty Images

In a moment absolutely overstuffed with events that all bear the weight of historic significance — the hard-right lurch of the Supreme Court, an election the president appears destined to lose and then contest, another surge in the deadly pandemic — it’s easy for California’s Prop 22 to get lost in the shuffle. But it could be as momentous as any of that. …

How ‘visionary fiction’ can be used as a framework for building a better world for all humans

One of the key steps to building a survivable, sustainable future is envisioning and articulating what that future should look like. That might sound obvious, but it’s easier said than done, and it’s a step that’s too often taken for granted. And yet: Black-led movements have been advocating for police and prison abolition for decades, and describing what alternatives might be — big, ambitious visions that few thought possible. Until, suddenly, in the wake of the uprisings after George Floyd’s murder — they were.

Walidah Imarisha, a scholar, educator, author, and editor of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories for Social…

The late rock god was also an unsung tech genius

Edward L. Van Halen, musical instrument support, US4656917A/Google Patents

Every rock song is the sound of advancing technology.

The electric guitar was maybe the first popular instrument that was an ongoing engineering project, a device whose sound was constantly refined, distorted, and modernized to the mold of the cultural moment by musicians themselves. The best rock guitarists knew this — that to truly advance the state of the art of rock music, they’d have to improve the available technology, too. …

As robotization scales up, so do injuries

Photo: Philippe Lopez/Getty Images

For the last decade, Amazon has been on an automation spree. The retail behemoth is mechanizing its warehouses, buying up robotics companies, and transforming its facilities into state-of-the-art, semi-automated distribution centers. The goal is clear enough: to move, sort, and ship products to customers as fast as inhumanly possible — to vastly improve operational efficiency. This is always the aim when companies adopt industrial automation, of course, but it comes with a downside: People tend to get worried about the robots.

Since long before the term “robot” was even coined, workers have been justifiably concerned that machines would pose a…

‘New Atlantis’, Francis Bacon’s pioneering work of proto-science fiction, has just been reissued. Here’s why it still matters.

Image: zf L/Getty Images

Utopias are one of the earliest, most straightforward forms of speculative fiction. Beginning with Thomas More’s 1516 faux travelogue about the strange, egalitarian land of Utopia that gave the concept its name, telling stories whose chief aim is to describe what an ideal world might look like became an enduring art form. Yet critics don’t usually place the genesis of science fiction until the Industrial Revolution — Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often cited as the starting pistol of the genre.

Which, fair enough — utopias usually took the form of a travelogue; a visitor to a new fantastic and ostensibly…

Brian Merchant

Senior editor, OneZero, books, futures, fiction. Author of The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone, founder of Terraform @ Motherboard @ VICE.

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