In reexamining a terrible tangle of a situation, one can sometimes pinpoint that single moment when everything went wrong. During my decade-long research, I had always feared that this would happen in North Korea, where I would have no control over my fate. As it turned out, the moment took place in New York City, after I had finally finished my draft. Six months before publication, my editor sent over the design for the book cover. Something caught my eye: Below the title—Without You, There Is No Us: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite—were the words, “A Memoir.”
We live in an age of data visualization. Go to any news website and you’ll see graphics charting support for the presidential candidates; open your iPhone and the Health app will generate personalized graphs showing how active you’ve been this week, month or year. Sites publish charts showing how the climate is changing, how schools are segregating, how much housework mothers do versus fathers. And newspapers are increasingly finding that readers love “dataviz”: In 2013, the New York Times’ most-read story for the entire year was avisualization of regional accents across the United States. It makes sense. We live in an age of Big Data. If we’re going to understand our complex world, one powerful way is to graph it.
But this isn’t the first time we’ve discovered the pleasures of making information into pictures. Over a hundred years ago, scientists and thinkers found themselves drowning in their own flood of data—and to help understand it, they invented the very idea of infographics.
The book’s dedication “to all my enemies” who made the oeuvre possible confirms the impression that the blizzard of score-settling that follows is less than balanced. The aphorisms are sometimes lazy, the facts can be sloppy, and the studied cool – all the while insisting that “I am the uncoolest person you will ever meet” – can be grating. I also could definitely have done without learning about Mr. García’s weakness for “strenuous fornication” and drunken romps in the Facebook broom closet.
And yet, somehow, “Chaos Monkeys” manages to be an irresistible and indispensable 360-degree guide to the new technology establishment.
Many second-career writers have it much worse than I do, and I assume many are much better off. But we all arrived here — if the endless peaks and valleys can even be called a destination — against the noise of a ticking clock. I’d like to say that maturity brought me resolve at last, but I think it was desperation. I try to remember that time is on my side because I can no longer waste it. I’m in my 50s, and there is a lot of life still to be sorted out. I have aging parents, children, a marriage, and friends. Immense cares that eat up vast swaths of my days and, soon, an empty nest. I compete against the minutes and hours, and at midlife, they begin to pass with unnerving speed. No sense wallowing; there’s work to be done.
My name is Ian Alexander Mackenzie Real’ness New Paradigm Raven Way and I have short scruffy hair and a fuzzy Riker beard and I wear a button shirt. People tell me I look like Ryan Gosling, and if you don’t know who that is, get the fuck out.
At this moment I am 30 years old, newly married and financially stable, and attempting to have a baby. It’s not been clear to me at any point that I want this, but it’s what one does, right?
When we buy the new, satiny, pinchy bra & pants set, we might picture ourselves wearing nothing else as we crawl across the floor towards a dazzle-toothed Brazilian paramour – but we might just as easily imagine it completely hidden under a pencil skirt and tweed jacket as we sip cappuccino in a town square while reading an improving novel on a Kindle. The question of whether the things fit… well, that doesn’t come into play until you’re back home, hence the 30% who “frequently” discard a bra immediately on purchase.