We are a viral climate

Humans as a kind of troposphere. Dreams that shift the multiverse. A European trickster among the Jesuits.

I was sitting in the car the other day, at a traffic light. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. The clouds were leisurely boating across the sky. This was in Richmond, Virginia.

Had I been teleported here from, say, three months ago, I’d have no idea there was anything amiss. The moment was suburban and manicured and harmless. Couples walked their dogs and children. Cars passed by unhurried. The wind-startled leaves were green murmurations.

We experience only this weather around us and forget, for a moment, the climate.

The balmy forecast in the Sundarbans affects me very little, just like the deepwater rice farmers and black-tailed goldwits along the Ganges don’t care that, here, it’s 62 and partly cloudy. Living eleven miles beneath the tropopause, tho, we’re all bottom feeders in the same ocean of air.

We live inside this troposphere. We could not live without it. But the troposphere is a kind of hyperobject—an entity of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that it defeats traditional ideas about what the thing is in the first place. We understand that our activities contribute to climate change, for example, but the scale of the interaction confounds the scale at which any individual human perceives it. The spacetime of the problem is not the spacetime of the solution. Our awareness is removed by powers of ten.

A virus? Same same.

A virus lives within a troposphere of humans. Couldn’t live without it. We are their hyperobject. Our global to-and-froings are like a thermohaline current of flesh. We are the ecology that helps them breed.

I guess that makes each of us virus weather. That makes each of us the local forecast. That makes humans a viral climate.

That’s what I’m thinking about at traffic lights these days.

Sources and Further Reading

Gif by Sasha Katza

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Hallin’s Spheres

A framework for interpreting media objectivity

Proposed by journalism historian Daniel C. Hallin in his book The Uncensored War (1986) to explain the coverage of the Vietnam war, Hallin’s Spheres divides the world of the media’s political discourse into three concentric spheres: consensus, legitimate controversy, and deviance. Consensus is what everybody agrees on (motherhood and apple pie, as Jay Rosen put it). Legitimate controversy is the realm of traditional journalistic neutrality and debate (similar to the area described by The Overton Window). And deviance is what journalists ignore. One can imagine that the unbundling of media complicates this framework in interesting ways (Hallin’s Venn Diagram of Barely Overlapping Spheres, anyone?).

More: The Essential Guide to Frameworks


  • Home Screens
    Technology allowed us to eclipse distance. But quarantined at home, there’s no more distance to eclipse. Now we’re faced with what technology can’t do. [Real Life Magazine]

  • Can speculative journalism help us prepare for what’s to come?
    Speculative journalism is kinda-sorta like pre-reporting the future, or imagining the future using journalistic techniques. The subtext is that by helping people envision the future, you’re helping them imagine a better one. I’m all for this (yay!), tho I often worry we’re on a futile quest to replace mid-century sci-fi utopianism, popularized by Madison Avenue to prey on consumer fears). [Nieman Lab]

  • The Green vs Purple GTA Gang War Taking Over TikTok
    New Taylor Lorenz newsletter on a meme that jumped from GTA to IRL (or IRTikTok). Reminds me of the origins of Red vs. Blue. [Taylor Lorenz]

  • The Man Who Thought Too Fast
    Fascinating profile of Frank Ramsey—philosopher, economist, and mathematician, and a great dead white guy you've likely never heard of. [New Yorker]

Recent Books

  • The Thing Itself, Adam Roberts *** A time-hopping AI has a Platonic dialogue with an astrophysicist-cum-garbageman as part of a test to determine whether a non-human intelligence can perceive Immanuel Kant’s das ding an sich. Shit gets weird. [SF Reviews]

  • Metamagical Themas, Douglas Hofstadter **** DH’s articles in Popular Science during the early 80s. Includes entertaining pieces on the uncertainty principle, analogies, and nomic. [Wiki]

  • The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin **** a jet age dystopia about a harmless nebbish whose dreams can literally change reality. Basically Covid REM sleep. [Wiki]

  • Tyll, Daniel Kehlmann **** a scrawny trickster travels Europe during the Thirty Years War while serving an exiled king, terrorizing Jesuit charlatans, and reveling in the absurdity of 17th century logic. Baroque lulz ensue. [The New Yorker]

  • The Blizzard, Vladimir Sorkin **** a small town doctor carrying a vaccine to cure zombies tries to reach a remote Russian village but is stymied by an impenetrable snowstorm. [The Atlantic]


Things made in a previous life that are still handsome and helpful. You may also be interested in our popular guide to creating better content: You don’t get it, you’re not the point. More here.

The Essential Guide to Frameworks

The Essential Laws of Creativity

The Creative Problem Solving Reading List

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