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We Have the Technology is a collection of eleven stories about exploring and hacking sensory perception, published in 2015 and brought to you by the fine folks at Basic Books/Hachette.
Kirkus Reviews calls it "consistently fascinating, witty, and candid" and "engrossing techno-science delivered with gusto."
Publishers Weekly gives it a starred review, calling it "a superb account of human perception and the first clunky but potentially breathtaking efforts to expand it."
New York Magazine says, "Her focus on the senses raises smart questions about the pliable boundaries of human perception and the very real limits of technology—at least in primitive 2015."
The Washington Post calls me "a wonderful explictor of technology who weaves memorable and vivid metaphors to illustrate difficult concepts" who "does not shy away from the tough questions of whether our effort to enhance—or simply subvert—reality is a healthy one."
The San Francisco Chronicle calls me "the antithesis of an armchair reporter" and "a good match for this fascinating, sometimes fraught subject. She’s an industrious gatherer of facts and anecdotes. She has a talent for explaining complex ideas in clear language. And in this book, her first, she’s crafted a thought-provoking group portrait of the innovative thinkers who, in ways subtle and not so, are reimagining what the brain and the body can do."
The East Bay Express calls it "a vivid exploration of the most unbelievable innovations in sensory science. ... With her rich reporting and narrative writing, Platoni provides readers with an accessible and engaging firsthand account of the inventions that are likely to shape science, technology, and human perception for many years to come. In this way, Platoni's book is an on-the-ground-tour of research advancements that at times sound more like science fiction than science."
And the San Jose Mercury News put it this way: "It's kind of the Exploratorium, but in a book. Just as the San Francisco museum's hands-on experiments connect thousands of mind-bending science-y dots, Oakland author Kara Platoni melds complex concepts of biotech and human sensory enhancement in her new book."
You can order at online retailers like these:
Barnes & Noble
Or ask for it at your local bookstore. IndieBound is a great way to find independent shops near you. You can order directly through IndieBound, or enter your zip code for a list of indies in your city, and order through one of their sites.
Shopping outside the US? Try Book Depository, which is based in the UK, with free shipping worldwide.
You can read an excerpt here about the 10,000 Year Clock, a slice from the chapter about time perception, as published on Hazlitt.
To report We Have the Technology, I ran around the world with my notebooks, heading for labs, military bases, biohacker basements, hospitals, and wherever else they would let me hang out to learn about cutting-edge perceptual technologies. Along the way I met perfumers, picklers, soldiers, body modders, cyborgs, robots, surgeons, clockmakers and bartenders. I wore a variety of unbecoming helmets. I ate and smelled some very weird things. And I came up with a few ideas about where it might all be headed and what it might mean for our hacker species.
For those of you curious about the book-making process, between 2013 and 2015 I used this page to keep a little diary of what it was like to write a book. Keep scrolling if you'd like to follow along (backwards). Starting with...
.... the final product, in the window at City Lights in San Francisco. Ah, my heart!
The eagle-eyed Katherine Rose was the very first to spot it in the wild on Thanksgiving weekend in 2015, more than a week before its official release date, nestled among all that other book-y goodness. (Thanks, Katherine, for both of these photos!)
So that's the hardcover version. Up until then, we'd been working with the paperback uncorrected proofs that were sent around to reviewers, booksellers, and members of the media. If you look really close you can see it's got a special black border with the name of the publisher and the "fall 2015" lineup stamped in the upper left corner.
Before we got to anything that looked like a book, this looked a lot like a giant box of paper. (The technical term is "corrected galley pages.") Here I am on my way to the post office in July 2015 to mail it all in for a final round of proofreading.
And here's the giant box of paper in all its glory.
I spent that summer doing my last revision on the galley, making edits the old-fashioned way: with a pencil.
The journey to that fine, fine box of paper began in 2013 ago with this notebook, where I brainstormed what I might write. This is the page from the day I sold my proposal.
And here it is again, almost exactly one year later.
What happened in between? I mean, other than that I sort of learned how to adjust image brightness in Photoshop so every shot doesn't look like it's lit by a lava lamp?
I did more than 100 interviews, sofa-surfing my way through four countries and eight US states, thanks to the generosity and forebearance of kindly reporters and their friends and family members everywhere. Reporters are amazingly supportive of each others' projects, and no matter how busy or tight their circumstances, they will always make room for you on their couch/air mattress/futon. (In one case, on their houseboat.)
I used a loooooooooooooooot of cassette tapes. People are always surprised that I used cassettes, but what can I say? I like 'em. I like that they're hard to accidentally erase and impossible to overwrite with the same file name. I like that they chop interviews into even 45 minute segments. I like that you can always tell whether the recorder is rolling or not. I like that if they break, you can fix them with a pencil and a bit of tape.
That said, they're now a semi-obsolete technology. I had to order this box from a warehouse in Brooklyn, which is where analog went to die. In fact, I had to order two boxes, because it turns out 100+ interviews requires some serious tape.
And yes, I finally got myself a digital recorder. My tape supply hung on until the end, but eventually all my handheld cassette recorders broke.
Along the way, I turned a lot of these...
... into stuff that looks like this.
And I turned a lot of these pristine notebooks...
... into this motley crew.
I wore a tremendous hole in the arm of my couch. I guess this is what happens when you sit in the same spot every day for a couple of years as you type?
I know: The shoes have pretty much had it, too. That old saw about reporter shoe leather is actually not a metaphor.
I also essentially destroyed my keyboard. Those keys are actually cratered. The lettering itself eroded years ago. I'm sure it's in my bloodstream now. It occurs to me now that the other old saw about reporters having ink in their veins is probably not a metaphor, either.
At the midway point, my students sent me a care package. It contained, among other wonders, Silly Putty and socks that say SCIENCE. The tag that says "Thinking Cap" went with an Oakland beanie, and it does indeed improve the thinking. The one that says "Self Explanatory" is a pencil case filled with pencils that say "Oaklandish." You can see them above in the shot of the galley, swinging into action to help me with my final round of correx. That was a very sweet moment, indeed.
Along the way I drank a lot of coffee. A lot. My favorite is Black Blood of the Earth, made by Funranium Labs. Legend has it that it's the most caffeinated coffee on the planet, so it's to be consumed in small quantities. I mean, they sell it by the beaker so you can dose yourself by the milliliter. I'm not quite that cautious, but I do have a whole routine I've worked out with an ice cube and a tiny glass. This supply got me through the last few months of edits and proofing.
I was supremely alert.
Except when I wasn't.
Sometimes, despite a steady intake of Black Blood, I was pretty tired. And I developed a wicked Doritos habit. This is a not-overly-stylized depiction of a day at the office.
But despite some semi-permanent nacho cheese stains and a few unpleasant realizations about my couch, those years of writing We Have The Technology were nothing but fun. I learned amazing things, witnessed truly futuristic marvels, and met wonderful people who live and work on the very cutting edge of the science of perception.
I can't wait for you to read their stories.