46 episodes

Audio version of The Convivial Society, a newsletter exploring the intersections of technology, society, and the moral life.


The Convivial Society L. M. Sacasas

    • Technology
    • 5.0 • 22 Ratings

Audio version of The Convivial Society, a newsletter exploring the intersections of technology, society, and the moral life.


    Year End Miscellany and "What You Get Is the World" (Audio Version)

    Year End Miscellany and "What You Get Is the World" (Audio Version)

    Welcome back to the Convivial Society. In this installment, you’ll find the audio version of the latest essay, “What You Get Is the World.” I try to record an audio version of most installments, but I send them out separately from the text version for reasons I won’t bore you with here. Incidentally, you can also subscribe to the newsletter’s podcast feed on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Just look up The Convivial Society.
    Aside from the audio essay, you’ll find an assortment of year-end miscellany below.
    I trust you are all well as we enter a new year. All the best to you and yours!
    A Few Notable Posts
    Here are six installments from this past year that seemed to garner a bit of interest. Especially if you’ve just signed up in recent weeks, you might appreciate some of these earlier posts.
    Incidentally, if you have appreciated the writing and would like to become a paid supporter at a discounted rate, here’s the last call for this offer. To be clear, the model here is that all the writing is public but I welcome the patronage of those who are able and willing. Cheers!
    Podcast Appearances
    I’ve not done the best job of keeping you all in loop on these, but I did show up in a few podcasts this year. Here are some of those:
    With Sean Illing on attention
    With Charlie Warzel on how being online traps us in the past
    With Georgie Powell on reframing our experience
    Year’s End
    It is something of a tradition at the end of the year for me to share Richard Wilbur’s poem, “Year’s End.” So, once again I’ll leave you with it.
    Now winter downs the dying of the year,   And night is all a settlement of snow;From the soft street the rooms of houses show   A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,   Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin   And still allows some stirring down within.
    I’ve known the wind by water banks to shakeThe late leaves down, which frozen where they fell   And held in ice as dancers in a spell   Fluttered all winter long into a lake;   Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,   They seemed their own most perfect monument.
    There was perfection in the death of ferns   Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone   A million years. Great mammoths overthrown   Composedly have made their long sojourns,   Like palaces of patience, in the grayAnd changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii
    The little dog lay curled and did not rise   But slept the deeper as the ashes roseAnd found the people incomplete, and froze   The random hands, the loose unready eyes   Of men expecting yet another sunTo do the shapely thing they had not done.
    These sudden ends of time must give us pause.   We fray into the future, rarely wroughtSave in the tapestries of afterthought.More time, more time. Barrages of applause   Come muffled from a buried radio.The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.
    Thank you all for reading along in 2022. We survived, and I’m looking forward to another year of the Convivial Society in 2023.
    Cheers, Michael

    Get full access to The Convivial Society at theconvivialsociety.substack.com/subscribe

    • 14 min
    "Lonely Surfaces" (Audio Version)

    "Lonely Surfaces" (Audio Version)

    Welcome again to the Convivial Society, a newsletter about technology and culture. This post features the audio version of the essay that went out in the last installment: “Lonely Surfaces: On AI-generated Images.”
    For the sake of recent subscribers, I’ll mention that I ordinarily post audio of the main essays (although a bit less regularly than I’d like over the past few months). For a variety of reasons that I won’t bore you with here, I’ve settled on doing this by sending a supplement with the audio separately from the text version of the essay. That’s what you have here.
    The newsletter is public but reader supported. So no customers, only patrons. This month if you’d like to support my work at a reduced rate from the usual $45/year, you can click here:
    You can go back to the original essay for links to articles, essays, etc. You can find the images and paintings I cite in the post below.
    Jason Allen’s “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial”
    Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp”
    Detail from Pieter Bruegel’s “Harvesters”
    The whole of Bruegel’s “Harvesters”

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    • 21 min
    "The Pathologies of the Attention Economy" (Audio), Links, Miscellany

    "The Pathologies of the Attention Economy" (Audio), Links, Miscellany

    Welcome back to the Convivial Society. In this installment, you’ll find the audio version of two recent posts: “The Pathologies of the Attention Economy” and “Impoverished Emotional Lives.” I’ve not combined audio from two separate installments before, but the second is a short “Is this anything?” post, so I thought it would be fine to include it here. (By the way, I realized after the fact that I thoughtlessly mispronounced Herbert Simon’s name as Simone. I’m not, however, sufficiently embarrassed to go back and re-record or edit the audio. So there you have it.)
    If you’ve been reading over the past few months, you know that I’ve gone back and forth on how best to deliver the audio version of the essays. I’ve settled for now on this method, which is to send out a supplement to the text version of the essay. Because not all of you listen to the audio version, I’ll include some additional materials (links, resources, etc.) so that this email is not without potential value to those who do not listen to the audio.
    Farewell Real Life
    I noted in a footnote recently that Real Life Magazine had lost its funding and would be shutting down. This is a shame. Real Life consistently published smart and thoughtful essays exploring various dimensions of internet culture. I had the pleasure of writing three pieces for the magazine between 2018 and 2019: ”The Easy Way Out,” “Always On,” and “Personal Panopticons.”
    I was also pleasantly surprised to encounter essays in the past year or two drawing on the work of Ivan Illich: “Labors of Love” and “Appropriate Measures,” each co-authored by Jackie Brown and Philippe Mesly, as well as “Doctor’s Orders” by Aimee Walleston.
    And at any given time I’ve usually had a handful of Real Life essays open in tabs waiting to be read or shared. Here are some more recent pieces that are worth your time: “Our Friend the Atom The aesthetics of the Atomic Age helped whitewash the threat of nuclear disaster,” “Hard to See How trauma became synonymous with authenticity,” and “Life’s a Glitch The non-apocalypse of Y2K obscures the lessons it has for the present.”
    The latest installment in Jon Askonas’s ongoing series in The New Atlantis is out from behind the paywall today. In “How Stewart Made Tucker,” Askonas weaves a compelling account of how Jon Stewart prepared the way for Tucker Carlson and others:
    In his quest to turn real news from the exception into the norm, he pioneered a business model that made it nearly impossible. It’s a model of content production and audience catering perfectly suited to monetize alternate realities delivered to fragmented audiences. It tells us what we want to hear and leaves us with the sense that “they” have departed for fantasy worlds while “we” have our heads on straight. Americans finally have what they didn’t before. The phony theatrics have been destroyed — and replaced not by an earnest new above-the-fray centrism but a more authentic fanaticism.
    You can find earlier installments in the series here: Reality — A post-mortem. Reading through the essay, I was struck again and again by how foreign and distant the world of late 90s and early aughts. In any case, the Jon’s work in this series is worth your time.
    Kashmir Hill spent a lot of time in Meta’s Horizons to tell us about life in the metaverse:
    My goal was to visit at every hour of the day and night, all 24 of them at least once, to learn the ebbs and flows of Horizon and to meet the metaverse’s earliest adopters. I gave up television, books and a lot of sleep over the past few months to spend dozens of hours as an animated, floating, legless version of myself.
    I wanted to understand who was currently there and why, and whether the rest of us would ever want to join them.
    Ian Bogost on smart thermostats and the claims made on their behalf:
    After looking into the matter, I’m less confused but more distres

    • 23 min
    Taking Stock of Our Technological Liturgies

    Taking Stock of Our Technological Liturgies

    Welcome to the Convivial Society, a newsletter about technology and culture. In this installment, I explore a somewhat eccentric frame by which to consider how we relate to our technologies, particularly those we hold close to our bodies. You’ll have to bear through a few paragraphs setting up that frame, but I hope you find it to be a useful exercise. And I welcome your comments below. Ordinarily only paid subscribers can leave comments, but this time around I’m leaving the comments open for all readers. Feel free to chime in. I will say, though, that I may not be able to respond directly to each one. Cheers!
    Pardon what to some of you will seem like a rather arcane opening to this installment. We’ll be back on more familiar ground soon enough, but I will start us off with a few observations about liturgical practices in religious traditions.
    A liturgy, incidentally, is a formal and relatively stable set of rites, rituals, and forms that order the public worship of a religious community. There are, for example, many ways to distinguish among the varieties of Christianity in the United States (or globally, for that matter). One might distinguish by region, by doctrine, by ecclesial structure, by the socioeconomic status its members, etc. But one might also place the various strands of the tradition along a liturgical spectrum, a spectrum whose poles are sometimes labeled low church and high church.
    High church congregations, generally speaking, are characterized by their adherence to formal patterns and rituals. At high church services you would be more likely to observe ritual gestures, such as kneeling, bowing, or crossing oneself as well as ritual speech, such as set prayers, invocations, and responses. High church congregations are also more likely to observe a traditional church calendar and employ traditional vestments and ornamentation. Rituals and formalities of this sort would be mostly absent in low church congregations, which tend to place a higher premium on informality, emotion, and spontaneity of expression. I am painting with a broad brush, but it will serve well enough to set up the point I’m driving at.
    But one more thing before we get there. What strikes me about certain low church communities is that they sometimes imagine themselves to have no liturgy at all. In some cases, they might even be overtly hostile to the very idea of a liturgy. This is interesting to me because, in practice, it is not that they have no liturgy at all as they imagine—they simply end up with an unacknowledged liturgy of a different sort. Their services also feature predictable patterns and rhythms, as well as common cadences and formulations, even if they are not formally expressed or delineated and although they differ from the patterns and rhythms of high church congregations. It’s not that you get no church calendar, for example, it’s that you end up trading the old ecclesial calendar of holy days and seasons, such as Advent, Epiphany, and Lent, for a more contemporary calendar of national and sentimental holidays, which is to say those that have been most thoroughly commercialized.
    Now that you’ve borne with this eccentric opening, let me get us to what I hope will be the payoff. In the ecclesial context, this matters because the regular patterns and rhythms of worship, whether recognized as a liturgy or not, are at least as formative (if not more so) as the overt messages presented in a homily, sermon, or lesson, which is where most people assume the real action is. This is so because, as you may have heard it said, the medium is the message. In this case, I take the relevant media to be the embodied ritual forms, the habitual practices, and the material layers of the service of worship. These liturgical forms, acknowledged or unacknowledged, exert a powerful formative influence over time as they write themselves not only upon the mind of the worshipper but upon their bodies and, some might say, heart

    • 11 min
    What Is To Be Done? Audio Version

    What Is To Be Done? Audio Version

    This is the audio version of the last essay posted a couple of days ago, “What Is To Be Done? — Fragments.”
    It was a long time between installments of the newsletter, and it has been an even longer stretch since the last audio version. As I note in the audio, my apologies to those of you who primarily rely on the audio version of the essays. I hope to be more consistent on this score moving forward!
    Incidentally, in recording this installment I noticed a handful of typos in the original essay. I’ve edited these in the web version, but I'm sorry those of you who read the emailed version had to endure them. Obviously, my self-editing was also a bit rusty!
    One last note, I’ve experimented with a paid-subscribers* discussion thread for this essay. It’s turned out rather well, I think. There’ve been some really insightful comments and questions. So, if you are a paid subscriber, you might want to check that out: Discussion Thread.

    * Note to recent sign-ups: I follow a patronage model. All of the writing is public, there is no paywall for the essays. But I do invite those who value this work to support it as they are able with paid subscriptions. Those who do so, will from time to time have some additional community features come their way.

    Get full access to The Convivial Society at theconvivialsociety.substack.com/subscribe

    • 20 min
    Audio Version: "LaMDA, Lemoine, and the Allures of Digital Re-enchantment"

    Audio Version: "LaMDA, Lemoine, and the Allures of Digital Re-enchantment"

    Welcome to the Convivial Society, a newsletter about technology and culture. This is the audio version of the last installment, which focused on the Blake Lemoine/LaMDA affair. I argued that while LaMDA is not sentient, applications like it will push us further along toward a digitally re-enchanted world. Also: to keep the essay to a reasonable length I resorted to some longish footnotes in the prior text version. That version also contains links to the various articles and essays I cited throughout the piece.
    I continue to be somewhat flummoxed about the best way to incorporate the audio and text versions. This is mostly because of how Substack has designed the podcast template. Naturally, it is designed to deliver a podcast rather than text, but I don’t really think of what I do as a podcast. Ordinarily, it is simply an audio version of a textual essay. Interestingly, Substack just launched what, in theory, is an ideal solution: the option to include a simple voiceover of the text, within the text post template. Unfortunately, I don’t think this automatically feeds the audio to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, etc. And, while I don’t think of myself as having a podcast, some of you do access the audio through those services. So, at present, I’ll keep to this somewhat awkward pattern of sending out the text and audio versions separately.
    Thanks as always to all of you who read, listen, share, and support the newsletter. Nearly three years into this latest iteration of my online work, I am humbled by and grateful for the audience that has gathered around it.

    Get full access to The Convivial Society at theconvivialsociety.substack.com/subscribe

    • 16 min

Customer Reviews

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22 Ratings

22 Ratings

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This work is the clearest, most precise thinking on technology I’ve ever heard, and a treasure-trove of sources.

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Incredibly insightful

I listen to each of these multiple times, stop to really understand & process every few minutes. This should be more popular.

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