Digital Dystopia

Interview with Margaret Atwood

The author of The Handmaids Tale (~40 other novels!) shares insights of her entrepreneurial journey, why the end of humanity won't likely be the result of a megalomaniacal tech entrepreneur, and her various screen adaptations that are hitting pop culture at the same time.

November 12th, 2020   |    By: Sarah Lacy    |    Tags: Stories, Product/MVP

In today’s era of quick consumption media, we’re lucky to have any words stay relevant ten minutes after they are written. (Just look at how the Tweets of President Donald Trump complaining about Barack Obama golfing too much have aged.) Novelist Margaret Atwood has pulled off something tremendous in that the 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale is even more relevant today, than any other time. And that wasn’t a fluke. It’s not the only Atwood project making the leap to TV. “Oryx and Crake” has been in production as well as “Alias Grace.”

Barely a week goes by where Atwood doesn’t get a fan Tweeting her about one of her post-apocalyptic fantasies coming a little too close to reality.

But despite her talent for rendering dystopias brought about by innovation, disrupters, and advances in technology, Atwood is a pretty enthusiastic early adopter when it comes to tech. She’s enthusiastically experimented with new platforms and new media, constantly exploring the art of reading and writing in a variety of forms. From small boutique venture-funded publishers like Byliner to Wattpad to Medium. Atwood wants to explore nearly any place people are reading or writing.

This seeming contradiction has long fascinated me when it comes to Atwood, as has her almost super-human productivity and range as a writer. When I interviewed Atwood, we talked about her admiration for Elon Musk, why the end of humanity wasn’t likely to come from a megalomaniacal consumer Internet entrepreneur (phew!), and her various screen adaptations that all seem to be hitting pop culture at the same time.

Her views on the (then) potential of a Trump presidency were particularly interesting, given how his election has spurred sales and popularity of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” She also tells the story of her own entrepreneurial journey, The Long Pen.

Sarah Lacy: I listened to a podcast you were on recently. I think it was for “The Guardian,” when you were promoting “The Heart Goes Last.” You said that you used to give humanity about 50/50 odds of survival, and that you were slightly more optimistic. You were now at 53 percent odds of survival.

I’m curious, if it is still at 53 percent, given the rise of people like Donald Trump. What has made you slightly more optimistic of late?

Margaret:  It comes and goes. I don’t think Donald Trump has got much to do with the prospects of the survival of humanity, honestly. I know that he thinks that he’s key, but that’s an ego problem. Anyway, aren’t you jealous? We’ve got Trudeau.

Sarah:  We really are.

Margaret:  No matter who you elect, you’re not going to get anybody that cute in this country.

Sarah: Maybe after the panel, you could give some people some advice on what cities we should move to.

Margaret:  You’re welcome in Toronto. You might like that, but if you’re a West Coast person, you’re probably more inclined towards Vancouver. It’s very near Seattle.

Sarah:  It’s rainy, though. We’re not used to rain in San Francisco. We’re going to have to pick rain or the next Hitler.

Margaret:  No, I think you’re being too harsh on him. I don’t think he has…

Sarah:  You think I’m being too harsh on Donald Trump?

Margaret:  On Donald Trump, yeah. Hitler, that’s a pretty high bar.

Sarah:  You don’t think he has the talent? Is that what you’re saying? He’s too “low energy” to be Hitler.

Margaret:  I don’t think he has the fixed ideas. I think he’s very malleable and will go where he thinks the path will lead, rather than trying to make the path go where he wants to go. That’s a very different thing. In other words, he’s not a true believer.

Essentially, an opportunist, rather than a serious crazy person.

Sarah:  You’ve written about a lot of serious crazy people.

Margaret:  Not a lot, just some.

Sarah: They’re just so crazy. You increasingly spend time in Silicon Valley. You do a lot to support a lot of startups that are around writing and reading. In your time in the Valley, have you ever seen a Crake? Do ever feel like, “That is that guy, the crazy, megalomaniacal…”

Margaret:  A Crake would be in biotech, not in digital tech.

Sarah:  That’s good to know.

Margaret: Anybody in digital tech actually wants to have a lot of people to use their product. They’re not probably thinking about how to diminish the number.

Sarah:  They don’t want to wipe out the human race?

Margaret: No.

Sarah:  That is a good hedge against Travis Kalanick destroying our world.

Margaret:  Silicon Valley is not going to be the epicenter…

Sarah: Who do you think is? You made a comment in the green room that “Oryx and Crake” is starting to come to life.

Margaret:  We’re already getting the human organs grown in pigs. Any time one of these things happens, of course, everybody lets me know on my Twitter account. “Margaret, did you see this?”

Sarah:  For those who haven’t read the book, Crake is this crazy genius. Actually, the world is going this direction before Crake.

Margaret: I don’t think he’s crazy. I think he’s just very rational, which may be the same thing.

Sarah:  See, I see a lot of that in the Valley. Basically, they have started growing human organs in animals. Pigoons are these crazy pigs that have human cortexes.

Margaret:  They’re growing multiple kidneys to begin with. Then they do an experiment with the brains, which I just read scientists are worried that if they put too many human cells into pigs, it will get to the brain, and they will. Pigs are pretty smart, anyway.

Do we really want a smarter pig? I would say no. No, I would say no.

Do we want a pig with a human brain? No, don’t do it.

Sarah:  You already ran the thought experiment in your book.

Margaret:  I did.

Sarah:  If anyone needs convincing, read the book.

Margaret:  It doesn’t come out all badly over the three‑part series. The pigoons have some redeeming qualities, but you don’t want to be on bad terms with them, not bad terms.

Sarah:  No, I don’t want them anywhere near me. I have had so many people in the last couple days make me promise to ask if you are truly done with the series or if you are going to write a fourth one?

Margaret:  Am I truly done with it, or am I going to write a fourth one? I never predict the future.

Sarah:  Did you know it was going to be a trilogy when you started it?

Margaret: No. It is now going to be an HBO television series.

Sarah:  How is that coming?

Margaret: It’s coming. It is a large project. It is Darren Aronofsky, a perfectionist, and his team, one of whom is a biologist. He really quite understands it. It is a massive project, and it is HBO, so the bar is high.

Sarah:  When is it going to be out?

Margaret:  What is this word, when? We don’t understand that word.

We from Mars do not understand this Earth word, ‘when‘. It will happen when it happens. Meanwhile, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is available on Hulu. There is a miniseries being made of “Alias Grace,” and it’s shooting in August, it’s six‑part. Sarah Polley is the person behind that one. There’s a lot of activity going on.

Sarah:  How involved are you with those projects?

Margaret:  I’m an old person.

Sarah:  First of all, we’re in the green room, and she’s like, “Should we talk about my new comic book?” You are the most prolific woman. You operate in every medium. I think Crake has created you. I don’t think you’re real.

Margaret:  You think so? There you go.

Sarah: How involved were you?

Margaret: I’m a consultant. I get to read the scripts. I’m not going to say the ideas that I nixed. I get to make comments. As you know, when you sell an option to a book, the author doesn’t have veto rights.

There’s a very good reason for that. The very good reason is, if somebody’s put multi‑million dollars into something, they can’t have a situation where the author comes along and says, “I hate that tie. I’m canceling. You can’t do it.”

Sarah:  Is that hard for you, or do you have enough detachment from your work?

Margaret:  When I was younger, a long time ago, before you were born, I worked in television and film scripts. In fact, I wrote my first film script with a director called Tony Richardson, who old people will remember directed “Tom Jones.” Remember that?

Now that nothing goes away anymore, you can see all of this online. I worked with him, and that was very instructive. Then I did other things when a lot of television was still black and white.

I understand that films are not books, that films are very visual. Books are made of words, and that limits what you can do in either of these media. I’ve also written opera librettos. That’s different, too, because the conventions are different.

In an opera, you can sing at the top of your lungs, and we all pretend that nobody else onstage can hear you, because it’s a soliloquy. You can’t do that in a film unless you’re Bergman or somebody like that. Each one is different. Each one has got its strengths, its weaknesses, and its limitations. Each one can do something the other ones cannot do.

Sarah:  Is this why you love experimenting with so many different forms?

Margaret: Probably so, because I always have done that since I was quite young.

Sarah: Is there a form you haven’t done yet that you would like to do?

Margaret:  Thinks hard. I don’t know. We’ll see. I’ve never written a musical. No, I take it back. I have written a musical.

I wrote the world’s first and only home economics operetta, 1956.

Sarah: Can you sing some of it for us?

Margaret:  I’m not going to do that.

I sang some of it in an elevator once to the director of the Canadian Opera Company, and he said that I had ruined Hoffman’s “Barcarolle” for him forever because that was the tune I used for the song about laundry.

This was an operetta about fabrics, so of course there was a washing song in it about laundry.

Sarah: You’ve already written your version of “The Tempest.” Have you done this to Shakespeare? Is it about laundry?

Margaret:  I haven’t done bad things to Shakespeare. I would not dare to do bad things to Shakespeare. I’ve done fun things to Shakespeare, but Shakespeare did fun things to himself, so that’s OK.

Sarah:  Can you tell us a little bit about that project?

Margaret:  He was a very, very inventive person. He was one of the great all‑time experimenters with language.

It’s called The Hogarth Shakespeare Project. Because it’s Shakespeare’s anniversary, question to you, which anniversary? Birth or death?

Sarah: I’m going to guess death.

Margaret:  Right, death is the correct answer, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It’s a tribute series in which about 10 novelists were asked to choose a play of Shakespeare’s and revisit it in the form of a novel.

Jo Nesbo, the murder writer, is doing “Macbeth,” I think a very good choice for him. Edward St. Aubyn, who has family problems, is doing “Lear.” Jeanette Winterson has already done “Winter’s Tale.” Howard Jacobson has done “Merchant of Venice,” and Anne Tyler is about to publish “The Vinegar Girl,” which is a redo of “Taming of the Shrew.” I’ll be fascinated to see what she did.

I chose The Tempest. The novel is called “Hag Seed,” which is one of the bad words that Prospero calls Caliban. It will appear in October.

Sarah:  That’s exciting.

Margaret:  Yeah.

Sarah:  Your previous book that came out, I might be missing six, because you’ve published so many, but the last new one I read was “The Heart Goes Last.”

Margaret:  Yes.

Sarah: Which I loved. I have to say, it felt like Margaret Atwood candy to me. It felt like everything you want in a horrifying Margaret Atwood book, but much quicker and easier to read. It was more of a cotton candy version of Oryx and Crake.

Did anyone else say that? Do you think that was part of writing it as a serial? The form that you started writing that in, did it make a difference?

Margaret: Yes. I started writing it as a serial on Byliner, which was then bought by somebody else, and somebody else has now bought it from them. It has now changed hands twice, and it’s still technically alive, so we are told.

Sarah:  I also sold a book to Byliner. They never published it. It’s the only time it’s ever happened to me. Paul sold one, and it’s the bestselling one he ever did. You and Paul at least did well with Byliner.

Margaret: Yeah. I got talked into it by an old editor of mine. Her name is Amy Grace Loyd, who is also a novelist. She used to work for “New York Review of Books,” and “New Yorker,” and “Playboy,” those three bastions of literary excellence.

Then Playboy decided it wasn’t going to do literature anymore, it was just going to do pictures.

I think they’ve now backed off of that, but at that time…She then moved over to Byliner, which was started by a bunch of magazine editors.

They were pretty good. I think they lacked that thing you’ve been talking about a lot here today, which is called a viable business plan.

Sarah: I was going to say, you’ve been involved in so many startups. Is there something that you’ve noticed with the ones that tend to make it and succeed, and the ones that can’t ever either get enough momentum, or a business plan, or whatever the problem is?

Margaret:  I haven’t been involved with that many. I’m a fan of Wattpad. Wattpad is a user‑content‑generated story‑sharing digital site. In other words, you can write stories and post them on Wattpad.

It has a social media aspect in that people following your story can say, “Hey, great story,” things like that, “tell me more.” It’s quite positive, and has, I would say, quite an appeal to young writers, teenage writers, people trying it out. There’s a very simple reason for that, and that is that you can use a pseudonym.

When I was a young writer, you could publish in this high school yearbook under your own name. That’s why what appeared there was always “My Summer Vacation,” and it was never “My Steamy Vampire Story.”

You knew that you could not publish your steamy vampire story in the high school yearbook or your teachers, your parents, and your peer group would either be shocked or make fun of you.

You can publish on Wattpad and call yourself Flaming Wingsome Silver or whatever, and nobody will know it’s you. It does have a large number of users, and it’s free.

In countries and places where they might not have a library, they might not have a school, you might not be able to afford books, there’s going to be a cellphone there somewhere, and you can read and write on your phone.

I know the people who started that. They were two digital engineers originally from Hong Kong, and they’re in Toronto. That’s where Wattpad is.

They both had the idea of reading and writing on your phone back when you couldn’t actually read and write on your phone. It only would handle one line. They built the platform and flat‑lined for a number of years.

Then when the technology got to the point where you could do lots of things on your phone, it went like that, the usership. It’s in 25 different languages, and I view it as an encourager of literacy.

That’s why I think it’s a good thing.

Sarah:  There’s a lot of people in your profession who see technology and tech companies as the enemy in some format. Either kids aren’t reading because they’re on social media, or short attention spans, or Twitter destroys the human language because of the character restriction.

We now know the narrative has come full circle. Amazon didn’t destroy books after all.

Margaret:  Digital didn’t destroy books after all, as it turns out.

Sarah:  Did you ever get stuck in that fear cycle, or did you always love embracing the new? One of the things that strikes me about you is you’re so on top of your game and so powerful in an old world publishing system, but you seem to have never had any fear about all the new at the same time.

Margaret: Let me put it to you this way, Sarah. One of my early boyfriends tried to teach me how to drive once. He said, “I can’t do this, because you have no fear.”

I do have fear. I just don’t have fear of the usual kinds of things.

Sarah:  I once interviewed someone, we were talking about Elon Musk and what makes him so different. He said, “Elon is missing the fear chip.” You and Elon, next buddy movie.

Margaret:  I love a couple of things that Elon is doing. I think they’re fantastic. I wish he would stop going to Mars.

Sarah:  You do?

Margaret:  Yeah. I don’t want him to go to Mars. I want him to stay here and perfect solar‑driven vehicles.

Sarah: He’s going to retire on Mars. That’s his plan, it’s to retire on Mars.

Margaret: Later, much later. Do the solar cars first. Please, Elon. Finish what you start.

Sarah:  You read your books, and you think, “This person must have so much distrust of genius entrepreneurs who build these all‑powerful companies,” and then you don’t seem to.

Margaret:  No. I grew up the street from Marshall McLuhan, that idea of medium as the message. How old was I when “The Gutenberg Galaxy” came out? I was 21, 22. These are actually ideas that have been around for quite a long time, that new platforms change what you can communicate and how you can communicate it.

We had McLuhan quite heavily in the ’60s and ’70s, then we had a hiatus of McLuhan. Now, in the digital age, McLuhan was there first. He said all of this stuff quite a long time ago. That’s one reason I don’t have fear of it. It’s been around. If you look at the history of reading and publishing, you can see that it was changing and innovating all throughout the 19th century.

The kinds of novels that we now view as classics are in the form they are in because that was the predominant publishing form at that time. Without magazines, no Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes appeared in serial form in magazines. That’s where the following got built up.

I was also there in the early ages of sci‑fi and the early age of comic books. These things have been around. A lot of the ideas have been around for a long time. They’ve just hit a mass moment right now.

Sarah: One of the things you’ve done really well is connect with fans on Twitter. You engage with people a lot, and you’re on there a lot. In the green room, when we were trying to get you to eat, you were like, “I need to send a tweet.” Somewhere, Jack Dorsey got some wings, because he needs more people saying that.

Why do you think Twitter has not resonated with the mass market? You’re a very mass‑market storyteller, and you seem to find it something…

Margaret:  What do you mean it hasn’t resonated?

Sarah:  Certainly, there are hundreds of millions of people using it, but their biggest problem seems to have been, by Wall Street terms, they can’t go mainstream, meaning as big as Facebook.

I know a lot of people in my peer group who are like, “I just don’t get it. I just don’t get it.”

Margaret:  What is mainstream? How many billion do you have to have before you’re mainstream? I think the bar for mainstream really got moved quite substantially.

Sarah:  Yeah. Dick Costolo said his biggest failure as Twitter CEO was existing in the time of Facebook.

Margaret:  Is that what he said? I don’t see why people consider themselves failures. A lot of people get the news through Twitter, for instance. I think it’s because Facebook, you can put pictures on it. That’s what people do a lot.

I have a Twitter thing that I do entirely myself, and people can usually tell when it’s you or when it’s some functionary doing it for you. Nobody touches my Twitter except me. It’s all me.

When I first went on to it, there were a couple of other Margaret Atwoods pretending to be me. I had to get rid of them. I’m not going to tell you how.

I got rid of them, then I got messages saying, “It’s not really you, is it?” I was, “Yeah, it is me, but how would you know?”

It’s all playtime out there. I think that people that really don’t do very well on Twitter are people who think it’s primarily a promotional thing. It isn’t. You can promote other people’s work on it.

I think it’s more like a party or a radio station, of which you are the host. Little radio show, so you can invite other people on, you can talk about their stuff with them, you can recommend other people’s work, but if you start saying, “Buy my book,” in your face, people don’t like that because you have violated a social rule of a party.

I wouldn’t go into your party and say, “Sarah, $29.99.”

You don’t use social occasions like Twitter and parties to shill your own stuff.

Sarah:  We glossed over your comic book quickly.

Margaret: There’s two comic books in the works. When I was a child, I used to write and draw comics. I continued doing that from time to time a grown up. In fact, I had a strip in the ’70s called “Canadian Culture Comic” that featured a super heroine called Survival Woman who, being Canadian, couldn’t fly and has no shoes.

What can I tell you? I’m pretty silly. First of all, someone is doing a graphic of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” That should be out in 2017, but I’m not writing or drawing that one. I am consulting. I’m the consultant.

My own one is called “Angel Catbird.” You can find that online. I have been in the wrong business all my life. The mere announcement of Angel Catbird got more press than any piece of fiction that I’ve ever written.

Sarah:  Why do you think that was?

Margaret:  Because they have a very good publicist called David Hyde who has a company called Superfan. That’s his specialty, it’s graphics and comics. Apparently, I think people just found the idea so weird, that I was writing a comic, but why would it be weird? I’ve always written comics.

This one, Angel Catbird, comes out of my interest in bird conservation. It is how do you reach people on these ideas, particularly ideas that involve predation by cats? As you all know, we wuv our pussycats.

Sarah:  I certainly do.

Margaret:  Yes, we do. Wuzzy, wuzzy, wuzz, wuzz.

Having been a cat person all my life, I understand that. Best answer would be to create a superhero that is part cat, part bird, and therefore can understand both sides of this question.

Sarah:  There is a love triangle.

Margaret:  Yes, there is, but I’m not going to tell you about that. There’s also a character called Count Catula, who as you might imagine, is part cat, part bat, and part vampire. I’m fond of him. That is my comic. I’m doing the script.

The illustrator is a very good graphic artist called ‑‑ and his real name is ‑‑ Johnnie Christmas. Johnnie Christmas is drawing Angel Catbird. I’ve never met Johnnie Christmas, but we’ve had a lively interchange of emails. He draws the thumbnails. We look at those. Then he draws something called the inks. We look at those and make comments, alterations.

Then a colorist comes in and does the coloring. Her name is Tamara Bond Villain. I don’t make any of this up. It’s out there in reality. I’m going to meet all these people at none other than Comic‑Con, San Diego, where I have been before.

Sarah: OK. Getting back to my first question about the 47‑53 or whatever it is, if something is going to take out civilization, what is it? What worries you?

Margaret:  Judging from history, deep history, deep biological history, it is going to be a combo of environmental and microbiological forces. The two are joined at the hip. In other words, when you get lousy climate conditions, you also get a lot of a lot more hostile, successful microbes because your immune system is lowered, anyway.

I do have a little mini‑library devoted to the Black Death. I take that back.

I was going to say I’m not macabre.

I grew up amongst biologists. These, again, are pretty old ideas. The original book on that was called “Rats, Lice and History.” It was followed by “Guns, Germs and Steel.” They like these three‑word titles.

The interplay of human life, apparently large life form with micro life, which can reproduce and mutate a lot faster than we can. That, I would say, is probably going to be. Bombs and what not, they kill some people, but plagues do a much more thorough job.

If you want to see it all at work, read a book called “1491,” which is about what North and South America looked like the year before Columbus set foot upon them. How exactly many people are thought to have died, not even from contact with Europeans, but from contact with people who had been in contact with other people all the way along the line, passing pathogens along.

That’s why I have my character Crake go the way of a manufactured microbe. I’m not the only person thinking about this. The Pentagon has been thinking about it for some time.

Sarah: Tell us about the LongPen.

Margaret:  This is the story of the development of the first “Star Trek” item that we have on the planet, which is the beam me up, Scotty, where Captain Kirk dissolves into pixels, and then reappears somewhere else.

We do that with writing, the LongPen. You write at your end, that dissolves and reappears at the other end in the form of ink. If you don’t need that immediately, the digital paper version, which is it all gets stored. If you need a real piece of paper with real ink writing on it, you can produce it one time, once only, that original, in a remote location.

When I first did it, I did it in the following really stupid and idiotic way. Long, long ago, before we had smartphones, tablets, or cameras built into our computers, the FedEx person came to my house and said, “Sign here.” Being a technological ignoramus, I thought that my signature was flying through the air and coming out somewhere in the form of ink, which it wasn’t.

I thought, “Hey, why don’t we do this for books?” It was at the moment when book tours were shrinking. A lot of authors and a lot of places were not getting book tours, and the places weren’t getting authors.

Publishers had figured out that they should put authors only in the places that reported to The New York Times bestseller list. Why did they think that? A lot of people were missing out, and I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting if we could combine this with a video cam, which then came separately and involved a lot of equipment, that would allow you to interact with somebody at that end and then sign their books?

We did that. We did it all around the world, but nobody could figure out how to scale it. Where were you going to put the book signing things? Could you put them in bookstores? That would be an awful lot of them. How was it all going to work?

Then there was a moment when everybody said everything is going digital anyway, including books. That turned out not to have happened. They also said, because now people were saying, “Why can’t we use this in banking, insurance, mortgages, etc., car leasing?” “Oh, it’s all going to be digital.” Now we know that isn’t true either.

The thing has come full circle. For compliance reasons, a lot of these institutions want pieces of paper with real writing on them. They want a way of storing them until they need the piece of paper with real writing on it. They want to be able to do it remotely because it saves so much time, energy, and ‑‑ if you go the digital storage route, paper and money.

After, I have to say, 10 years of screaming hell, the light bulb moment for this technology has now arrived. There you have it. I did it originally for books, but it turns out to have tons of other uses, books being one of them, but by no means the only one.

Sarah:  There you go, born from a misunderstanding of FedEx technology.

Margaret: That’s exactly right, and lack of the fear factor.

Sarah: What are your views on e-readers?

Margaret:  I’ve always owned them because people of course have always given them to me hoping that I would know and love them.

Like every other piece of technology on the planet including apple corers, each thing is good for something. E‑readers are very good for traveling. People who have to read a lot of a manuscripts love them because their body doesn’t get all lopsided, like this.

They’re really good when you’re working with your publisher, and you’re sending PDFs and documents back and forth. That part is brilliant. They’re good for serial reading, like if you read a lot of detective novels, or a lot of romance novels. It’s like scratching. You can read them, and then they go away. It doesn’t pile up in your house.

They’re really bad for reading “War and Peace,” the immersive, long book read is hard to do on an e‑reader because somehow, it’s hard to orient yourself in it.

They’re with us. They did not take over the entire market, but they have a use and a function. I’ve even bought copies of my own books and put them onto a name reader so that I could search them when I was looking for something in my own book so I didn’t have to read the whole thing.

Sarah:  That’s the only time I use it.

Margaret:  You search your own books.

It’s hard to read a long book for reasons that neurologists well describe to you. Your mind interacts differently with the screen, but nonetheless, it’s very good for reading short things on, newspaper articles, news, bits of snippets, e‑magazines, and all of these things, brilliant for that.

It’s just the long books. Does that mean that people will stop reading long books? Apparently not. A lot of long books have done extremely well in recent years. Dare I mention “Game of Thrones?”

I read those in book form because I wrote a review piece about it in The Guardian. Those are thick. There’s a lot of words in them, well‑thought, brilliant. Wonderful television series. Long, hard to read on an e‑reader.

Sarah:  What do you think of Silicon Valley’s attempts at “hacking death”?

Margaret:  Good luck with that. They have not thought through freezing yourself. Let me explain Highgate Cemetery to you. It was highly promoted in the 19th century as the absolute best place to be buried.

A lot of people did get buried there, including Karl Marx and George Eliot. It had a high‑class clientele of dead people. Then all their relatives died, and nobody paid the fees anymore, and it sprung up into this jungle. It’s now an archeological site, pretty much.

You get yourself frozen. Who owns your stuff? Are you still alive? Your relatives aren’t going to like that. Is there a yearly fee? Are they going to pay it for you? How long before somebody pulls the plug on you, and you’re a kaput? I would say not very long.

Is immortality a goal that we should be pursuing? We all think it would be a great idea for ourselves. Do we not? And a terrible idea for everyone else.

About the Author

Sarah Lacy

Sarah Lacy is the Founder and CEO of Chairman Mom and Pando Media. She's been covering technology for nearly 20 years, previously for BusinessWeek, TechCrunch and many other publications. She's the author of "Once You're Lucky; Twice You're Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0" (Gotham, 2008); "Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky: How the Top 1% of Entrepreneurs Profit from Global Chaos" (Wiley, 2011) and the forthcoming "A Uterus Is a Feature Not a Bug" (Harper Business, 2017). She lives in San Francisco.

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