Ben Smithgall

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Software and data at Spotify. Previously with U.S. Digital Service and Code for America.

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By Naomi Klein

Finished reading on September 12, 2018

Originally published in 1999, perhaps the most interesting thing about this book is to examine what has held up over time and what has not. Depressingly, perhaps, the negative trends identified by Klein have not really abated, while the positive “movement” that she identifies has almost entirely vanished. In the codex of this edition (this being the Tenth Anniversary Edition), Klein begins to reckon with this fact: 9/11 entirely changed the face of anti-corporate discussion in the United States, and it has largely vanished from my lifetime.

Meanwhile, the primary problems that she identifies continue. The whack-a-mole approach to enforcing labor standards seems to be the norm, and companies play a cynical PR game. Nike continues to be an exemplar of this phenomenon, though the garment industry is problematic as a whole.

Overall, I think that one of the most interesting things that Klein raises is something that had just really started when she was writing: the evolution of the “brand” as something beyond a product but instead an idea or set of ideas. In the modern era, brands attempt to have “personalities” and get into spats with each other on Twitter, something truly hyperreal. I wonder what Klein would make of this moment, and hope that she writes another update for the 20-year anniversary of the book’s publishing.

★★★☆☆