Ben Smithgall

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Bit pusher at Spotify. Previously Interactive News at the New York Times, U.S. Digital Service, and Code for America.





Player Piano

By Kurt Vonnegut

Finished reading on March 1, 2019

Though the writing is a bit weaker than some of Vonnegut’s later books, I still enjoyed this one tremendously. There are some sections that don’t make a lot of sense, but overall it’s a cry out for purpose in an increasingly automated world: from where do we draw meaning?

It’s also incredibly prescient of Vonnegut, writing in 1952, to describe what happens when huge parts of the economy vanish under a scourge of automation. I was surprised to learn, after reading this book, that Vonnegut considered himself a socialist. In the book though, the apparatus of automation is owned by a large national corporation that controls all production, relegating the remainder of society to the “Reeks and Wrecks” or the army (which appears to be the last vestige of the state).

Overall, I really like Player Piano, especially reading in concert with Jill Lepore’s recent piece in the New Yorker about how robots aren’t actually coming for our jobs.