TIME viral

Marcel the Shell (With Shoes On) Is Back

Comedy on the half shell.

Marcel the Shell has put his shoes back on and marched on over to YouTube to take the Internet by storm — again.

The adorable mollusk is the brainchild of comedian Jenny Slate, who tweeted about the surprise third installment of his YouTube series this morning.

In the video, Slate’s earnest little shell with shoes is joined by her husband, Dean Fleischer-Camp, who plays Marcel’s exceedingly patient off-camera interviewer. Fleischer-Camp keeps the camera rolling as Marcel talks about how shrimp “are the idiots of the sea,” explains that his “shell gets tight” when he gets worked up, sings a sweetly sad song and announces his favorite saying, which is, of course, “life’s a party, rock your body.”

It’s Marcel’s first video since 2011 and it seems that the happy little univalve was brought out of retirement to help promote his latest children’s book, Marcel the Shell: The Most Surprised I’ve Ever Been.


TIME viral

If Disney Characters Instagrammed, They’d Be Guilty of These Selfie Crimes

Artist Simona Bonafini created a series that will rock your childhood

The Little Mermaid always wanted to be a part of our world. And we live in a world of selfies — lots and lots of selfies.

Artist Simona Bonafini created a series titled “Selfie Fables” that imagines what your Instagram feed would look like if it were habituated by your favorite cartoon characters. And while it isn’t as disturbing as other Disney re-interpretations, Hercules and company are guilty of some selfie faux pas:

Shirtless gym selfies. We know this is going straight to Tinder:

Simona Bonafini

Bikini shots. There’s no need for #perfectbody thinspo…

Simona Bonafini

Instilling feelings of FOMO. Maybe your invite to the tea party went into your spam folder?

Simona Bonafini

Nothing is wrong with this selfie. Maleficent owns it:

Simona Bonafini
TIME Internet

Monica Lewinsky Just Joined Twitter

Masterpiece Marie Curie Summer Party In Partnership With Jaeger Le-Coultre And Heather Kerzner
Monica Lewinsky in London, June 30, 2014. Mike Marsland—WireImage/Getty Images

Here she goes

Updated Oct. 20, 10:30 a.m. EST.

Monica Lewinsky joined the flock on Monday morning, and here’s what she had to say:

Vanity Fair, which featured her tell-all story earlier this year, was the first to confirm her new account. It quickly received a Verified checkmark.

Is it just that she’s excited to join Twitter? Or is Monica getting ready to tweet her way through the 2016 election?

TIME movies

Director Jason Reitman: ‘The Internet Opens Up So Many False Opportunities to Feel Loved’

Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Jason Reitman
Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner and Jason Reitman arrive at the Directors Guild of America on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, in Los Angeles. Dan Steinberg—Invision/AP

The director of Men, Women & Children talks technology, sex-ed and why the first search for porn is really about understanding where we come from

There’s something a little ironic about Men, Women & Children director Jason Reitman interrupting an interview about how technology is harming kids today to answer a FaceTime call from his young daughter. But as the filmmaker behind Juno and Up in the Air explained last month at the Toronto International Film Festival, parents “got saddled with a very tricky job and no way to do it right” when it comes to raising kids in an era where hardcore pornography is just a click away.

Men, Women & Children, now in theaters, follows an ensemble cast of characters (played by Jennifer Garner, Adam Sandler, Ansel Elgort and others) as they develop porn addictions, sign up for cheating websites and generally see their sex lives and relationships suffer from too much Internet and social media. TIME spoke to the director in September about the movie and what it has to say about finding intimacy in 2014.

TIME: This movie deals a lot with what I’m sure keeps many parents up at night — sexting, secret websites, teenagers interacting with strangers online. So what are you most horrified by?

Jason Reitman: There’s general horror, and there’s specific horror. The general horror is that we clearly are in search of intimacy, and the movie explores that. The movie opens with us launching this golden record up into space as this desperate attempt to make a connection with something we don’t even know exists. And then it shows people on their devices trying to make human connections left and right. I strangely think there is connective tissue between us launching Voyager and us using Tinder. We just desperately want to connect. And we’re doing in it perhaps in the wrong ways.

And then there are the specifics. I have a daughter who’s going to turn 8 next month. She is one innocuous search query away from seeing stuff and learning stuff she simply doesn’t need to know yet. I don’t think there’s time to list the amount of fears that come from the Internet and how it affects our intimacy, our sexuality and our communication.

This movie is based on the book of the same name by Chad Kultgen. How do you adapt a story about technology with technology changing so quickly?

All the plot lines originate in the book and focus on how the Internet has changed our sexuality. The only thing that’s changed is that over five years, you go from MySpace to Facebook. Twitter exists, Instagram exists, Snapchat exists. The sites change, but the concept stays the same. Thinspiration and pro-ana, I wasn’t aware of until I read the book, and [it] completely freaked me out. And there was this concept of — and I don’t think there’s a word for it yet — this kind of young pornography addiction that leads to impotence. That’s scary, the idea that teenage boys would not be able to have traditional intercourse because they’ve brainwashed themselves.

There doesn’t seem to be an example in this movie of technology helping anybody have a better relationship with their body or sexuality. Do you think that doesn’t exist?

The shining example in the film is the couple that’s basically not online, and everyone else is struggling. The most positive examples of the Internet helping, for me, are not sexual. I look at the Arab Spring. I look at Ferguson. I look at the ways in which communication and connectivity are broadening our horizons and allowing us to see racism in a new light and police brutality in a new light. That’s a definite positive and something interesting, something you can kind of quantify. Within the realm of sexuality, I think the Internet can be enlightening as far as reducing homophobia hopefully in the future. And certainly you can point to Match.com — I guess it’s going to bring couples together that would otherwise not meet. It certainly raises the possibility of second and third marriages, relationships later in life where it seems harder and harder to meet available people.

I feel like there are a lot of sex-positive communities and resources on YouTube and Tumblr now.

Yesterday Ansel Elgort brought up the concept that there should be classes in school that teach this kind of stuff. That teach the dangers of the Internet, and the positives, and play into human sexuality. There’s a course that they give athletes when you become an NFL player or an NBA player. There’s a three-day weekend where they take you through the dangers of life, and one would say you could apply this course now to all teenagers and say, “This is what’s coming down the road.”

It probably has to start earlier than teen years now?

That’s the question, right? If you can read and write by 7, 8 years old, you can type then, and once you can type something as a search query, then it’s game over. But 8 years old is probably too early to learn. It’s somewhere between 8 and 12, there’s a moment where you have to catch them.

I just read an article the other day about a father who discovered his 9-year-old had already looked at porn. He was willing to talk to his kid about it, but he also thought that conversation was a few years down the road.

It’s funny, if you think about the greatest scientists of our time, what is the study? The study is where we come from. They’re studying the Big Bang, they’re studying, “What is the conception of the universe and of human life?” And as children we are just intrigued. My daughter’s already come to me and asked — and she had a great way of phrasing it — “I know I’m half mommy and I’m half you, but how do you get the half you into mommy?” And there’s something about that first search for pornography that while, yes, is perhaps titillating, perhaps is way more about, “Where do we come from?” You want to see it, and you want to know it, and those questions start earlier than 12 years old. I mean, I’m trying to think when I looked at my first Penthouse. It was before I was 12. Maybe it was closer to 10. The question is, how do you vary the lesson plan?

Is the issue of 10-year-olds looking at porn more about updating sex-ed programs or about teaching kids how to responsibly use the Internet at an early age?

Listen, I’m not a sex researcher or a psychologist, I’m just a guy who makes movies, so I’m not sure really what my answers are worth in this subject, to be perfectly honest. My gut is that it comes down to other stuff at the end of the day. If you can teach your kid the old-fashioned — self-confidence, the ability to be open and honest and ask questions to the people they trust — hopefully that counteracts the more dangerous behavior, which is going online to look for the wrong community to answer your questions. The wrong community could be a thinspo board, the wrong community could be PornHub, the wrong community could be just some forum of adults who down the rabbit hole in the way that a 10-year-old shouldn’t be. So yeah, I think you have to prepare your children logistically for what they’re going up against. You’re not going to give the kids the keys to the car if they don’t know how to drive. And at the same time — I’m sorry, this is my daughter, one second. [Reitman briefly FaceTimes with his daughter.] It’s very fitting of this conversation!

So is the burden entirely on parents at this point?

Everyone has different opinions, but yes, I am a believer that parents should parent their children and give them the key stuff, the key life shit that makes us prepared for the interpersonal stuff as well as the inter-technology stuff.

If you’re raised to love yourself more and communicate with your family more, then you’re going to have a better shot when people you never met online try to infiltrate your brain. You don’t search for the wrong things to feel loved. I’m constantly thinking about the ways I look for love and the ways other people look for love. The Internet opens up so many false opportunities to feel loved, whether you’re paying to iChat with a porn star or whether you’re going on a community and sharing your fears, and people are validating your fears in the wrong way. For me, it gets less about the physicality of sex and more about the deep desire for intimacy. Intimacy is such a potent thing that we will follow the fragrance very fall down the road, the wrong road.

There are no rules [on the Internet]. When we were kids, your parents could say something as simple as “Don’t watch an R-rated film.” There isn’t any “don’t watch an R-rated film, don’t go into an adult shop.” Now it’s, “Don’t go into the grocery store because aisle three may be cereal, but aisle seven is hardcore pornography!” I’m not worried about PornHub, I’m worried about Google, I’m worried about YouTube. That makes me sound like Patricia [Jennifer Garner’s character, an extremely overprotective mom] in the movie, but it’s true. The avenue to fruitful information is at an intersection with the avenue to everything my daughter should not be looking at at 8 or 18. We got saddled with a very tricky job and no way to do it right. We’re making the best effort. People are seemingly resilient. We’re very curious and somehow haven’t blown ourselves up. We seem so capable of annihilating ourselves, and we’re still kind of on the right track. We’re going to figure it out.

TIME animals

Stop What You’re Doing And Watch This Live Rescue Mission of a Baby Bear

This is a developing story

You need to stop what you’re doing and watch this live-streaming video of a small baby bear who escaped from a dumpster in Pasadena, Calif. and is now being pursued—along with its mother—by animal rescue officers, and a helicopter news crew:

You’re welcome.

TIME Internet

11 Halloween Costumes for People Who Spend Too Much Time on the Internet

Beryl Lipton douses Matt Lee during the ice bucket challenge at Boston's Copley Square on August 7, 2014 to raise funds and awareness for ALS.
Elise Amendola—AP

From the Apparently Kid to the Ice Bucket Challenge to some guy on Tinder

Halloween is almost two weeks away, which means time is running out to create the perfect costume. (Yes, you could always buy one, but homemade costumes are so much more fun and clever.) If you’re anything like us, you spend most of your time hiding behind a screen, entrenched in the weird world of the Internet — so why not use Halloween as an opportunity to celebrate the web’s biggest trends?

Here, ideas for 11 costumes that will help you take your web-savviness off of the screen and into the real world.

1. The Apparently Kid

Five-year-old Noah Ritter became a massive internet sensation thanks to his scene-stealing appearance on a local news segment. With appearances on Ellen, a mention on The Colbert Report and even a commercial deal, he won the Internet and our hearts.

What you need: A large TV microphone, a striped polo shirt, a can-do attitude. Make sure to punctuate all your sentences with the word “apparently”

2. The “Sexy Felon”

Jeremy Meeks Stockton Police Department

This summer, the Internet collectively swooned over the mugshot of convicted felon Jeremy Meeks. He was just so dreamy that nobody seemed to care too much that the California resident was considered “one of the most violent criminals in the Stockton area.”

What you need: Perfect bone structure (or makeup to create the illusion), an orange jumpsuit, eyeliner to draw a teardrop on your face and tattoos on your neck, a sultry gaze

3. Potato salad

Remember that time the wonderful people of the Internet came together to raise $55,000 for some guy on Kickstarter who just wanted to make some potato salad? Yeah.

What you need: White pants, white shirt, a picture of potato salad to tape to yourself, money to tape to yourself (optional)

4. Some guy on Tinder

This will be the best way for you to score a date at that Halloween party.

What you need: A stuffed tiger, poster board and markers to make a portable Tinder placard, a weird pick-up line

5. The Ice Bucket Challenge

Beryl Lipton douses Matt Lee during the ice bucket challenge at Boston's Copley Square on August 7, 2014 to raise funds and awareness for ALS.
Elise Amendola—AP

This viral phenomenon truly dominated the Internet for weeks, so you might encounter other people who’ve turned this into a costume too. Step up your game by requesting ice water at the party and then make a scene by dumping it all over yourself.

What you need: A bucket to wear upside down on your head, ice cube trays to tape to yourself

6. The Snapchat ghost

A modern twist on a classic costume. To really commit here, you’ll need to dash away from all conversations in 10 seconds (or fewer).

What you need: A white sheet, scissors to cut some eye holes, large yellow poster board to tape to your back

7. Obama’s tan suit

President Obama Makes Statement In The Briefing Room Of White House
Alex Wong—Getty Images

Everybody online seemed to have really strong feelings about the tan suit Obama wore during an address about the terrorist group ISIS. Like, they didn’t seem particularly concerned about ISIS, but they were super concerned about Obama’s suit.

What you need: A tan suit

8. A Flappy Bird

Since the creator of this game seems to have taken about five minutes to make it, there’s no reason you should spend any more than that making your costume.

What you need: A picture of a Flappy Bird, a printer, tape

Note: If you plan to tag-team Halloween this year, here are some options that work for a group:

9. Pumpkin spice

Pumpkin Spice Latte
Michael Phillips—Getty Images

You’ll need to convince five friends to dress up as each one of the Spice Girls: Posh Spice, Baby Spice, Scary Spice, Ginger Spice and Sporty Spice. Then you get to be the long-lost sixth member: Pumpkin Spice. Get it?

How many people: 6

What you need: Platform shoes, a mini skirt, a pumpkin to wear on your head (or a picture of a pumpkin to tape to your shirt)

10. Sharknado 2

Gather your friends, attach some sharks to yourselves and swarm around everybody. Boom — you’re the real life version of everybody’s favorite campy disaster sequel.

How many people: 2 (or as many as you want, really)

What you need: Stuffed sharks to attach to your body, black clothing

11. John Oliver destroying things

The host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight started a tradition of taking buzzy topics or concepts and then just totally shutting them down — and these clips continually took the Internet by storm. For this costume, one person gets to be John, and everyone else gets to be one of the things he has taken down. (Think Columbus Day, native advertising, the Obama administration’s drone policy, pumpkin spice lattes, the sexism of Miss America, etc.)

How many people: 3 or more

What you need: A suit and rectangular glasses for John Oliver, a whole bunch of creativity for everything else

TIME viral

Pizza Hut Singapore Apologizes for Calling Customer ‘Pink Fat Lady’ on Receipt

The latest insensitive receipt gaffe

Pizza Hut Singapore issued a public apology to a customer whose takeaway order Sunday came with two pizzas and a receipt with a handwritten note that identified her as “Pink Fat Lady.” Pizza Hut says it is investigating the matter.

“I don’t think it is nice for your staff to describe me as such on my receipt,” customer Alli Si posted on the company’s Facebook page. “As a customer I definitely hope to be treated with a basic respect deserved by any others.”

Her request for an apology was quickly granted by Pizza Hut, which promised an investigation and an assurance that the company does not condone this type of behavior.

“I appreciate Pizza Hut’s effort in addressing this matter and handling it in the best possible way they can,” Si wrote in a public post.

This isn’t the first incident of a restaurant having to apologize for offensive remarks written on receipts. Papa John’s had to apologize for an employee’s racist remarks after a customer posted a receipt identifying her as “lady chinky eyes” on Twitter.

A New Jersey woman filed a lawsuit against CVS for $1 million in 2013 after a cashier identified her as “Ching Chong Lee” on her receipt.

TIME Culture

5 Ways to Stop Shopping Right Now

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

We know all the moves to the happy-shopping dance. They’re not the same for everyone, but the essential choreography is the uncontrollable shake, twist, and jump that lets everyone know that we just scored something good. But, while we’re big fans of the HSD around R29, it’s just as important to recognize when a bit of “retail therapy” isn’t feel-good or dance-inducing, but rather a lame attempt to face down boredom, anxiety, or the blues.

Emotional shopping may not always be our downfall — sometimes we’re truly looking for a specific find — but understanding our actions can help us nip this bad behavior in the bud before it becomes habit.

In an effort to understand the cause of our retail compulsions, and tackle the best reasons to back away from the cash register, we turned to a few informed experts. With their help, we can change our reactions to the first signs of impulsive shopping, so we’re not left with an empty bank account or a too-full closet. Ahead, learn when to say no, and how put the power back into your glee-filled, post-sale shimmy. Now that’s therapeutic.


The Bored Buy

It’s a slow Sunday night (okay, fine, Friday night), you’re suffering Netflix indecision, and your usual going-out group is nowhere to be found. So, you fall into a friendly little Internet black hole of e-commerce sites, constantly pressing “add to cart,” and before you know it, you’ve placed so many orders you’ve basically waved goodbye to this week’s paycheck.

As psychotherapist Peggy Wynne points out, the advent of online shopping — though not necessarily recent — is a huge part of why we shop when we’re bored. With the accessibility at our fingertips, “we get too much sensory overload and are triggered instantly,” she explains. “It’s sort of like online gambling or porn.” You don’t need to go anywhere and barely need to do anything to make a purchase — the satisfaction is instant, though not necessarily a cure.


The Solution: Dig Deeper
The best trick for conquering bored-buyer burnout is to slow down your reactions. Take a walk or look away from the screen before pressing the hovering Place Order button, Wynne advises. Practice mindfulness, don’t just pull the trigger.

In addition, we recommend you flip the script. Turn bored shopping into bored looking. We, too, have found ourselves totally submerged in a sea of e-tail tabs. And, we say, use your wandering eye to your advantage. This is your chance to perfect your eBay search terms, keep tabs on an auction item you’ve placed a bid on, track down those hard-to-come-by products, or, ya know, read up on the top trends and pieces that are actually worth your hard-earned dinero. Take a moment to make yourself a more informed customer, rather than just the most frequent one.

(MORE: Depression: A Real Life Guide)


The Bummed-Out Buy
You just got dumped. Your friend screwed you over. Your boss gave you the HR boot. All you want are Kleenex, a bottle of wine, and all the shoes you can find. You’ve been jilted and you deserve it!

Those shoes may not be for naught. Professor Scott Rick of the University of Michigan found in a 2013 study that retail therapy actually can lift the spirits. “Sadness, more than any other negative emotion, is associated with a sense that external forces (e.g., disease, weather) control the important outcomes in one’s life,” Rick tells us. “Shopping is all about choice, and we find that making shopping choices helps to restore a sense of personal control over one’s environment, and thus helps to alleviate sadness.” Now, shop away with your sad self, right? Not so much.

While sadness may be treated temporarily with a purchase, it also has shown that it can “increase one’s willingness to pay,” cites Rick of his research findings. Your decision-making skills may not be the sharpest when you’re blue, which can lead you down a dangerous and habit-forming path of spending beyond your means.


The Solution: Set Your Sights On Something New
Call us suckers for a silver lining, but we’re all about Rick’s suggestion that purchasing can give you back a little power in your life. Use it for good. And, should you find yourself in these kind of emotionally distraught shopping sprees, set your sights on good things on the horizon: that job interview you just landed, a night out with your very best buddy, a vacation that you totally deserve. Celebrate the good and screw the rest — at least in this moment — and should you make a purchase, make it one that will help steer your future in a brighter direction. You got this.


The Far-Flung Buy
You’re on vacation and you’ve stumbled upon a local boutique. Okay, make that severalboutiques. Problem is: You’re traveling on a budget and you don’t even really needanything, nor do you particularly have tons of space in you suitcase. But, you can only see two ways out of this situation: buy now, or face shopping FOMO when you get home.

“Restlessness, fatigue, fear and irritability can often be associated with what creates anxious shopping,” Wynne tells us. After all, if you’ve just traveled halfway around the globe, the last thing you want to do is return home with a big, ole carry-on of regret. But, all those scary what-ifs should never overpower your ability to make decisions based on your true desires.

(MORE: Why Knitting Is the New Therapy)


The Solution: Do Your Research
We’ll admit, this quandary is a difficult one for us. And, yes, we’ve come home from trips with suitcases stuffed before. But, the best solution is to do your research ahead of your potential fear-of-missing-out situation. For starters, stay away from labels that can be bought for less in your home town. Look for those brands that either aren’t available back home, or can only be purchased after major markups. Shopping in Paris? Stock on up drugstore labels that cost three times as much in the States. Hitting up Tokyo? Keep your eyes peeled for Comme des Garçons, Sacai, and other Japanese brands that may be less expensive overseas. Know your market, know your conversion rates, and know when to say no.


The Offer-You-Can’t-Refuse Buy
Three words: two for one. Why pass up a good deal when a store is basically giving stuff away? Well, because you don’t actually need a fourth pair of strappy, block-heeled sandals (even if they are marked down 70%). We’re with you on this one, but we’ve also learned the hard way that this kind of impulse-buying leads to taking home stuff we’ll hardly — maybe never — wear.

Much like bored shopping, this feeling of overexcitement also falls “under the umbrella of sensation-seeking,” Rick says. Scoring a deal can give us a huge sense of accomplishment. (Who hasn’t done a victory lap around the mall after a particularly good bargain was found?) “This [tendency to shop] also comes from wanting that inflated sense of self-esteem,” Wynne adds, “when perhaps other things aren’t going so well.”


The Solution: Be Picky
It’s neither easy nor fun to say no to every sale you come across, but start getting picky about when you indulge. We suggest rummaging through all those store e-mails you once signed up for, and services that alert you when an item is getting marked down. Stop buying becausean item in on sale, and start making decisions to shop when the pieces you truly want have finally hit the 50-off mark. We assure you: This kind of calculated score will be even sweeter.


The “Someday” Buy
Not your size, not a problem! You can — and will — lose those five pounds, so your latest skirt purchase will fit like a dream, you’ll have an important meeting to wear it to, and all will be right in the world. Or, so you hope.

While a bit of self-improvement is a wonderful thing, as Wynne suggests, living with this kind of hopefulness can make it tough to differentiate between what is realistic and what is fantasy. Rick makes a different point: “[This] reminds me of ‘commitment contracts’ where people basically make it costly for themselves to fail to meet a goal.” While expensive, too-small jeans might inspire action in some, we have a sinking suspicion that — during whatever time they remain unworn — they’ll make you feel more mopey than motivated. Investing in a way to work on feeling good now could have better emotional returns.


The Solution: Aspire To More (Not Less)
We agree that aspirational shopping is not a bad thing — but, we say forget size matters. Focus on buying items that challenge you to step outside your comfort zone a bit, reach for a goal, or make an effort to get out more. Set exciting goals that allow you to participate right away and shop with a new sense of self in mind. And, should your new self also happen to changes sizes, well, be sure to treat her to something that fits when the time is right.

(MORE: TV Therapy: 10 Shows That Boost Our Mental Health)


TIME Internet

A Marketing Firm Could Be Looking at Your Selfies

Big brand advertisers want to find their logos in your pictures

That picture you posted on Instagram from the beach last week might have more useful data in it than you think.

Where are you? What do you have in your hand? Do you look happy or sad? What are you wearing? These are all questions that can help advertisers target their marketing to consumers, so a crop of new digital marketing companies has begun analyzing photos posted on Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest and other photo-sharing sites to look for these trends and insights.

Ditto Labs Inc. uses photo-scanning software to locate logos in these personal photos (is the subject wearing a North Face jacket? Or holding a can of Coca-Cola?) and look at the context in which these brands are being used.

For example, according to the Wall Street Journal, Kraft Food Groups Inc. pays Ditto Labs to find their logos on Instagram and Tumblr. Ditto Labs then analyzes trends like what people drink when they’re eating Kraft products and how happy they appear to be. They are then placed into categories like “foodie” and “sports fan” based on how they’re eating their Kraft food.

Digital marketing firms use personal photos in other ways, too; Piquora Inc. stores massive amounts of these images over a few months to look at trends over time.

This new brand of marketing research serves as a fresh reminder that the photos we put online are public, and once we click ‘post’ we lose control over who sees them and what they’re used for. “This is an area that could be ripe for commercial exploitation and predatory marketing,” Joni Lupovitz, vice president at children’s privacy advocacy group Common Sense Media, told the Journal. “Just because you happen to be in a certain place or captured an image, you might not understand that could be used to build a profile of you online.”

TIME technology

The Future of Civilization Is a Battle Between Google and Wikileaks

Julian Assange appears by hologram at The Nantucket Project on Sept. 28, 2014, alongside Eugene Jarecki. Meghan Brosnan

Eugene Jarecki is a New York-based writer and film-maker.

Eric Schmidt and Julian Assange's new books offer an unsettling portrait of our unpreparedness for a truly digital world

Last weekend, I participated in an event that grabbed headlines around the world, even making it into Jimmy Fallon’s opening monologue on “The Tonight Show.” Yet the real cover story has to date gone unreported.

The fourth annual Nantucket Project (co-sponsored this year by TIME) is a weekend of TED-style talks for the luminary set that hobnobs off the Massachusetts coast. I interviewed notorious Wikileaks founder Julian Assange by hologram, beamed in from his place of asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. News coverage the next day focused in one way or another on the spectacular and mischievous angle that Assange had, in effect, managed to escape his quarantine and laugh in the face of those who wish to extradite him by appearing full-bodied in Nantucket before a packed house of exhilarated conference attendees.

Beyond the spectacle, though, what got less attention was what the interview was actually about, namely the future of our civilization in an increasingly digital world. What does it mean for us as people to see the traditional town square go digital, with online banking displacing bricks and mortar, just as email did snail mail, Wikipedia did the local library, and eBay the mom and pop shop? The subject of our ever-digitizing lives is one that has been gaining currency over the past year, fueled by news stories about Google Glasses, self-driving cars, sky-rocketing rates of online addiction and, most recently, the scandal of NSA abuse. But the need to better understand the implications of our digital transformation was further underscored in the days preceding the event with the publication of two books: one by Assange and the other by Google Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt.

Assange’s book, When Google Met Wikileaks, is the transcript (with commentary by Assange) of a secret meeting between the two that took place on June 23, 2011, when Schmidt visited Assange in England. In his commentary, Assange explores the troubling implications of Google’s vast reach, including its relationships with international authorities, particularly in the U.S., of which the public is largely unaware. Schmidt’s book, How Google Works, is a broader, sunnier look at how technology has presumably shifted the balance of power from companies to people. It tells the story of how Google rose from a nerdy young tech startup to become a nerdy behemoth astride the globe. Read together, the two books offer an unsettling portrait both of our unpreparedness for what lies ahead and of the utopian spin with which Google (and others in the digital world) package tomorrow. While Assange’s book accuses Google of operating as a kind of “‘Don’t Be Evil’ empire,” Schmidt’s book fulfills Assange’s worst fears, presenting pseudo-irreverent business maxims in an “aw shucks” tone that seems willfully ignorant of the inevitable implications of any company coming to so sweepingly dominate our lives in unprecedented and often legally uncharted ways.

No sooner had these divergent visions been introduced to the world in print than their authors went toe-to-toe in the press, with Assange characterizing Google as the “privatized version of the NSA” and Schmidt firing back that Assange is simply “paranoid.” These simple sound bites belie the depth of each author’s worldview and even of their views of one another. Though Assange is an anti-establishment vigilante and Schmidt comes from a wildly different position as chief shopkeeper of the digital marketplace, their 2011 conversation shows a surprising level of agreement in key areas, such as the importance of information architecture and the way the digital world promotes public bargaining power. Assange of course wishes to promote these in the service of a more informed citizenry, while Schmidt seeks to empower more and better consumers.

Strangely, any such depth is absent in Schmidt’s book, which is more a sort of Pollyannish collection of “what they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School”-type maxims, gleaned at the helm of the world’s most dominant company. As with so much about Google, one is drawn to read Schmidt’s words despite oneself, though they are really just thinly veiled propaganda for his company. I felt like fact-checking some of what I read, but where would I go? Google?

So suddenly, a classic standoff has emerged across the digital town square. On one side, we see an exhausted but indefatigable vigilante, half-armed, bleeding, possibly half-crazed. On the other, the gleaming company man, armed to the teeth, with stars and stripes billowing behind him, swaggering with the confident ease of invincibility. As their crosshairs train on one another now across the digital frontier, I am reminded from Assange’s book that they were, in a sense, friends once, or at least kindred spirits in the quest to understand the road ahead.

For me, the most significant takeaway from this duel of perspectives came during my interview with Assange. I passingly referred to the Internet as a kind of Wild West, one with limited regulation and desperados vying for control. He stopped me and said I was only half right to characterize it this way. Citing his own legal difficulties and the larger ongoing NSA scandal, he argued that the Internet is in no way a lawless place when it comes to government controls. Rather, it is only lawless where the rights of citizens are concerned. Assange painted a picture of the old world — admittedly imperfect but built upon a legal system that seeks to balance human rights with human accountabilities, the privileges of citizenship with its costs. He then went on to describe the new world, where this delicate architecture is being replaced by one with highly developed structures for the enforcement of accountability but little or none to ensure the rights and freedoms of citizens.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, in the same week that Assange and Schmidt squared off as adversaries, Tim Berners-Lee, the person credited with actually creating the world wide web (sorry, Al) returned to the role of cool-headed arbitrator, calling for a Magna Carta of the digital age. “The power to abuse the open Internet has become so tempting both for government and big companies,” Berners-Lee warned, that a kind of bill of rights for Internet users is urgently needed. Berners-Lee’s testimony offers, perhaps, a third way between the extremes represented by Assange and Schmidt, coolly reminding us that somewhere between the heedless profit-pursuit of those in power and the strident antagonism of those opposed, we are long overdue for a kind of constitutional convention, the kind of democratic gathering necessary at the dawn of any brave new world to ensure that we strike a balance between the better and lesser angels in our nature.

Eugene Jarecki is a New York-based writer and film-maker. His Peabody, Emmy and Sundance-winning works include Why We Fight, The Trials of Henry Kissinger and The House I Live In.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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