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I remember a time when I was blissfully unaware of Davos, and then I remember a time when I was aware of it without really understanding it. For a member of the comms team at a large global health-oriented nonprofit, Davos was a last-minute email campaign, an annual moment of predictable unpredictability, a few paragraphs to be assembled, pushed, and forgotten.
Through exposure, my understanding grew, but somehow I missed the phase where I admired, respected, and waited breathlessly to see the outcome of this gathering of giants. Displays of status leave me not just cold, but irrationally furious. The World Economic Forum could end with a comprehensive (and executable) plan to solve the world’s ills, and I’d be as likely to light it on fire as praise it.
I have a problem, I admit.
Nick Paumgarten went to Davos in 2012 and wrote about it for The New Yorker. He showcases the ego, the arrogance, and the unearned power of the people who go — how very much the gathering is about power climbing on power, and how very little it’s about anything else. Revelations here? Not really, but a detailed and experiential report that looks straight up the WEF’s nose.
Davos is, fundamentally, an exercise in corporate speed-dating. “Everyone comes because everyone else comes,” Larry Summers told me. A hedge-fund manager or a C.E.O. can pack into a few days the dozens of meetings—with other executives, with heads of state or their deputies, with non-governmental organizations whose phone calls might otherwise have been ignored—that it would normally take months to arrange and tens of thousands of Gulfstream miles to attend. They conduct these compressed and occasionally fruitful couplings, the so-called bilateral meetings, either in private rooms that the W.E.F. has set aside for this purpose or in hotel rooms, restaurants, and hallways. All that’s missing is the hourly rate.
Speaking of powerful, contemptible men: Maria Dahvana Headley has mastered whatever the opposite of magical realism is — pulling myths into our world, then rubbing grime on them until it’s like they’d always been here. Her new short story does a brutal and brilliant job at griming up the gods and god-like men of Greek mythology. If you’re a woman, you’ve almost certainly dated these bastards. If you’re a woman, you’ve long since learned what “god” is another word for …
You’ll ignore what you know, and get it on with Icarus in an extra-long single dorm bed. When he rolls off, there will not be any room for you on the mattress, so you’ll sleep on the floor. He’ll be super sweet though. When you wake up, he’ll give you half a protein bar and take you to the free screening of Satyricon.
Everybody’s hating on social media these days, so much that it’s hard to find something original or new (or worth your time to read). Dayna Torotorici’s detailed history of her relationship with Instagram isn’t new, per se, but the way she exposes her own vulnerabilities, and how Instagram exploits them, feels new. She weaves delicately between the hot-take haters and the big-data fear-mongers while proving the point of both: social media is shaping more than our spare time.
Modern voyeurism has precedents, even the multiple-window kind. The entangled dynamics of who sees whom and who knows they’re being seen have always been present. Where Instagram seems truly new — beyond the introduction of machine learning and commercial surveillance to the mix — is in the strange instability of the viewer’s position as a subject. A voyeur knows what kind of viewer he is, but looking at Instagram, you are not always a voyeur. Neither are you always a witness, nor any other single kind of watcher. Each post interpellates you differently. Your implied identity slips with each stroke of the thumb.