For six weeks during the summer of 2010, I traded in my high-waisted skirts and oversized T-shirts for a modest cropped black blazer and a pair of slim-fitting slacks. I wore this professional ensemble every day while I interned at a small nonprofit in the stodgy Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC. I spent my days there assisting boss women who hobnobbed with politicians as they wore patterned jackets with shoulder pads and matching pants that just brushed the top of their heels.
Their pantsuits were from pricey places like Ann Taylor and Bloomingdales. However, as a lowly intern, I paid $45 for my set after discovering it at the bottom of H&M's clearance section. Because the jacket was a size too small, I could only really wear it open. But it kept me warm when the office was colder than an igloo. And my flared trousers were crucial for the mornings when I had to dart up DC's steep hills to catch the bus on my way to work.
Although I wore a pantsuit nearly every day that summer, I never stopped to think about what it signified or how it became so ubiquitous. The truth is, the pantsuit, as innocuous as it might seem, has an incredibly complicated history and still exists in a strange space within our culture, reflecting the aspirations of strong women seeking to defy gender norms and inciting the ire of those intent on keeping us in our place.
Ubiquitous computing and automation are occurring in tandem. Self-operating machines are permeating every dimension of society, so that humans find themselves interacting more frequently with robots than ever before—often without even realizing it. The human-machine relationship is rapidly evolving as a result. Humanity, and what it means to be a human, will be defined in part by the machines people design.
The essays in “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics” arrive like shots of espresso, which you can consume the way the Italians do, quickly and while standing up. As slim as a volume of poetry, Mr. Rovelli’s book also has that tantalizing quality that good books of poems have; it artfully hints at meanings beyond its immediate scope.
For fifteen years, I had scrupulously avoided reading the Novelist’s work, except maybe for a few short pieces in major magazines, which I’d scan for a bit and then set aside. Don’t ask me why I refused to read the Novelist—I had my reasons. I sincerely believed I would not enjoy The Novelist’s work, based on what I’d heard about it. But I was also afraid I might like the Novelist’s work. If it should turn out that The Novelist, who is the same age as me, were truly the voice of his/her generation, that would make it harder for me to claim that mantle at some undisclosed future date. And at our age, that window is rapidly closing, if not already shut, sealed, and winterized.
But finally this past summer, with the Novelist’s name and foibles monopolizing the main channels of every social medium, I could no longer bear to remain the only writer in New York without an opinion about the Novelist. I took the plunge and read one of the Novelist’s most iconic works.