Published last year in the U.K. to much critical acclaim, Laurence Scott’s Picnic Comma Lighting: The Experience of Reality in the Twenty-First Century offers urgent and compelling cultural and philosophical criticism—a lively and accessible existentialism for our times.
What does it mean to be human in the twenty-first century? How do we be real people in a world of online personas and “authentic” simulated experiences? In this innovative examination of our present reality, Scott charts the ways our traditional mental models of the world have started to fray.
Effortlessly applying philosophy to the quotidian, Scott “makes banal things shimmer with meaning” (Guardian). He ponders how ubiquitous cameras reframe our private lives (an event only exists once someone posts the video), how mysterious algorithms undermine our attempts at self-definition through their own data-driven portraits, and what happens in those moments when our illusions of reality are ruptured by incontrovertible facts (like the death of a parent or a bolt of lightning).
Virtuosic and intellectually delightful, Picnic Comma Lighting is an astounding account of how we have started to make sense of our strange new world.
Laurence Scott’s essays and criticism have appeared on NewYorker.com and in the Guardian, the Financial Times, and the London Review of Books, among other publications. He is a lecturer in writing at New York University in London, and lives in London.
Joshua Rothman is a writer and editor at The New Yorker. He covers culture, books, science, and technology and is the ideas editor of newyorker.com.