2015: My Year in Hypertext

Published on January 24, 2016
The author with a tiny black 8 week old puppy
In 2015, I filled a tiny dog-shaped hole in my life.

2016 is here—in fact it is nearly February. So in keeping with my tradition of posting a year-end wrap up several weeks into the calendar year, here is my annual list of links. Per usual, this is a very unscientific list, and by no means authoritative (or authoritarian). Just things published in 2015 (with one exception) that I read, watched or otherwise consumed between January 1st and December 31st that caught my eye, gave me pause or tempted me to post “THIS.” in my Twitter feed.

There was more of a method to the madness this year compared to last year. After publishing my Best of 2014 list in early 2015, I started an Evernote page to post links to things I thought were compelling immediately after consuming them. I also started tracking my own consumption a little more, using apps and social networks I was already invested in using. Specifically my Instapaper “hearts”, Reading.am “yeps”, and the few books I actually finished according to  Goodreads.


Audio

Lisa Welchman, on managing chaos and again on accessibility, diversity, and ‘Architecting the Information Age’ both appearances on the UX Podcast.

‘The Trust Engineers’ from Radiolab, about Facebook.

Sean Martell and Garth Braithwaite talk open design on the East Wing podcast.

Jen Simmons’ conversations Rachel Andrew on the “everyday” developer, and Jeremy Keith on understanding the Web on The Web Ahead.

Reply All: Jade Davis’ rainbow pug is kidnapped by the internet, Shulem Deen signs up for AOL and his life is ruined, and why is Mason Reese crying?

Science Friday: Why machines discriminate (and how to fix them).

How Does a Bail Bondsman Work? on Slate’s Working podcast.

Books

This was kind of a lousy year for me reading new books. Of what I did manage to pick up and/or finish, here are my recommendations:

Give Us the Ballot by Ari Berman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
I started this one in December and am still reading through it. The overturning of the protections of the Voting Rights Act on its 50th anniversary is one of the most shameful things that happened in 2015. Berman’s book is an engrossing modern history of the struggle for voting rights, particularly in the South, for the last 50 years.

An interactive, annotated Bartleby, the Scrivener, originally written in 1853 by Herman Melville, published on Slate.com.
I had kind of written off Slate for a while, but they do some cool, ambitious experiments, like this interactive edition of Bartleby, researched and footnoted by Andrew Kahn, with ten categories of footnotes. It makes for a great afternoon online reading experience, and also features an audiobook version.

Terms of Service by Jacob Silverman (HarperCollins).
Social media is a wonderful and tiresome thing. This book explores the hidden price of constant connection and “disruptive innovation”. Silverman’s book had two standout chapters: one on privacy, surveillance and bulk data collection; and a probing look into new on-demand app-enabled services like Uber and Airbnb, and its hundreds of copycats.

The People’s Platform by Astra Taylor (Picador).
OK, so this was actually published in 2014. Had I read it two years ago, it would have made the 2014 list. In a similar vein as Terms of Service, Taylor examines the failure of the promise of the World Wide Web and the digital age to empower artists, writers, creators, and also social movements. The power dynamic (at least in capital), is unevenly distributed in the hands of the CEOs and owner class of a select few platforms, not unlike every other sector of the economy. Damningly, the move to digital distribution has cut many of the middle class jobs and incomes from the arts, journalism, and culture sectors.

Essays, Opinion, Editorial

Senongo Akpem, on building nonlinear narratives for the web, for A List Apart.

Charles M. Blow, on Black Lives Matter for the New York Times.

Jamelle Bouie, on a more honest accounting of America’s history, (post-Charleston) for Slate.

Mandy Brown, on the slow work of dismantling white supremacy, on her personal blog.

Lawyer and typographer Matthew Butterick, on “the billionaire’s typewriter”, Medium.com

Debbie Chachra, on why she refuses the “maker culture” label, in The Atlantic.

Jennifer Daniel, on design’s (in)ability to change the world, on Medium.com.

Barbara Ehrenreich, on the mass-market mindulness racket, for The Baffler.

Ann Friedman, on her paradoxical quest to build a “personal brand”, for the (new) New Republic.

This would have been John Hope Franklin’s 100th year of life. For the New York Review of Books, Drew Gilpin Faust examines the Franklin’s contributions to American history scholarship and how his legacy continues in the writing and scholarship of Bryan Stevenson and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Seth Godin asks “is Google making the web stupid?”, on his blog.

Erika Hall, on humility, imposter syndrome, and ego management as core design skill, for Dear Design Student.

Sarah Jaffe reviews Miya Tokumitsu’s book and asks “is there such a thing as a dream job?”, for Dame magazine.

Chenjerai Kumanyika’s dispatch from Charleston and the cost of white comfort for NPR’s Code Switch.

Chris Lehmann, on his misadventures of being a journalist working for Yahoo News, for The Baffler,

Rune Madsen, on meta-design and algorithmic design systems, on his personal website.

Jen Myers, on sentiment and later, on the web’s early days and its uncertain future, on her personal site.

Barbara Ransby, on Ella Baker and leaderless movements, for Colorlines.

Joshua Rothman, on the love of reading and canonization of literature, in the New Yorker.

Dave Rupert, on Ol’ John Henry and the rise of automation in web design, on his personal site.

Jathan Sadowski, on mega-machines and mega algorithms for the New Inquiry

Katherine Sierra, on skater culture, Silicon Valley, and other “meritocracies”, for Wired.

Rebecca Solnit, on bad, predictable, sexist questions, for Harper’s Magazine.

Raphaël Vinot, on an ethical framework for the information technology industry, on BoingBoing.net.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher, on data collection and personal histories, on her personal site.

Alex Wright, on what the Web can learn from 19th century information science, for Nautilus Magazine.

Images

Kelli Anderson’s stop-motion music video for They Might Be Giants.

Cool glitchtastic opening titles for FITC Tokyo and an accompanying process video.

Haunting, heatbreaking images of Syrian refugees by NYT photojournalists Mauricio Lima, Sergey Ponomarev, and Daniel Etter.

It shouldn’t have taken the massacre of 9 churchgoers to bring down the Confederate battle flag flying over the South Carolina State Capitol. The image of activist Bree Newsome in climbing gear taking the flag down herself illustrates the power of nonviolent direct action. She, of course, would be arrested and the flag would be raised again only to be lowered 10 days later, ceremoniously by the S.C. lawmakers.

Interviews

I didn’t know about the relaunch of The Best Show until early 2015. Only a few weeks into doing the weekly 3-hour marathon again, host Tom Scharpling experienced some major loss. I enjoyed Alex Pappademas’ interview with Tom for Grantland. If Grantland couldn’t survive 2015, I’m sure glad Scharpling did.

Marc Maron’s interviews with Terry Gross and President Barack Obama, on his WTF Podcast.

I listened to a lot of Tommy Womack’s music in college a decade ago. I was really glad to hear Womack interviewed by Todd Steed as well as a few cuts, on my local public radio station.

Investigations

Kim-Mai Cutler explores how generations of residential segregation and housing discrimination has affected the community in East Palo Alto adjacent to Silicon Valley, for TechCrunch.

Merve Emre uncovers how elite business schools are teaching classic literature.

Michael Fletcher and a Washington Post team chronicle the wealth-loss inequality in majority-black Prince George’s County compared to adjacent white suburbs.

Jill Lepore helps childhood friend Adrianna Alty discover her birth father for the New Yorker Radio Hour.

Ashley Manor’s web documentary about the flood of plush animals, cards, and other condolence items that inundated Sandy Hook, and other places affected by mass shootings.

For the New York Times Magazine, Jim Rutenberg looks at the 50-year campaign to roll back the protections of the Voting Rights Act. Rutenberg has been following this beat for the magazine, with several subsequent ‘Disenfranchised’ columns for the NYT.

Eric Schlosser covers the Y-12 break-in of 2012 by three senior Plowshares activists for the New Yorker.

Valerie Strauss examines the astonishing amount of data being collected about your children.

Live Events

American Songster and fellow Northern Arizona alum Dom Flemons gave a lecture and performance at the Bijou Theatre, co-sponsored by the University of Tennessee Library Association and the Knox County Friends of the Library.

Amy-Jill Levine, professor of religion at Vanderbilt University delivered a lecture on the parables of Jesus the Jewish storyteller in February.

I was fortunate to attend Anne Washburn’s new play ‘10 out of 12’ at SoHo Rep in downtown NYC in July. Throughout the play you wear a headset and hear the disembodied voices of the behind the scenes crew at a tech rehearsal and witness the falling apart of a piece of art about to open. Later in the year my local Clarence Brown Lab Theatre at UT Knoxville staged Washburn’s 2013 play ‘Mr. Burns’, about the collapse of civilization following some kind of nuclear event. The play explores the artforms and stories that could survive an apocalypse, and how these are transformed through the passing of the oral traditions through the generations.

Special Issues

In June, The Nation magazine devoted its pages to inform us that ‘Tech’ is political.

Politico did a whole series on The Internet of Things, and the challenges in understanding and regulating emerging technologies.

Paul Ford’s epic 38,000 word magazine-length article for Bloomberg Businessweek, What is Code?

The peer-reviewed journal on the internet First Monday devoted its special September issue to disability and the internet.

Talks (written or recorded)

Maciej Cegłowski’s talk about corporate advertising, surveillance, and internet privacy.

Frank Chimero, The Web’s Grain.

Jennifer Daniel, Design is Capitalism (Creative Mornings San Francisco).

Aaron Gustafson, Resposive web design: where do we go from here? (Responsive Day Out).

Jessica Lord, Privilege, Community, and Open Source.

Eric Meyer, This Web App Best Viewed by Someone Else for Fluent 2015.

Mallory Ortberg’s hilarious talk about starting the feminism/humor website The Toast (XOXO Festival)

Other Online Writing

The #CharlestonSyllabus, a crowd-sourced list of texts for educators to create dialogue and understanding about the history of racial violence in America.

“Escape” by Jenny Trout, written for Cosmopolitan magazine’s 50 Shades of Grey fan fiction contest.

Abbey Fenbert recreates the pitch meeting for PBS children’s show Wishbone for The Toast.


If you are interested in what I’m looking at throughout this year, I occasionally share my online reading habits through Reading.am, and offline reading through Goodreads. I also joined the hot new social network This., which only lets you share one thing per 24-hour period—quality, not quantity.

I’ll close this out by mentioning that 2015 was a notable year for Nick the person, not just Nick the consumer. In that year I got to hold my first niece, celebrate my fifth wedding anniversary, and pay my first veterinarian bills. I served as an usher at my sister’s wedding and a pallbearer for my great-grandmother’s funeral. I traveled quite a bit this year for family stuff, friend stuff, art shows and a conference. Out-of-state, I drove to Alabama for the very first time, and took repeat trips to Arizona, New Mexico, New York (both the City and Upstate), North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Virginia.

Production-wise, I launched the Tumbleweeds website, a website for composer and artistic director Jason Overall, and my third Annual Report website for the University of Tennessee. I spent most of 2015 working on a major redesign/realign/overhaul, learning and collaborating a lot in the process, and am beginning to see this work finally in public use early this year. For the upcoming year, my goals are to not to do more things, but do things better. I’ll let you know how all that goes.