1/ The internet says that the word “pivot” may refer to a point of rotation in a lever system, a chemicals and explosives manufacturer in Australia, an open source platform for building applications in Java, one of three joints in the human body, a piece of syntax, a dance move. A dancer might pivot on one heel or on the heels of both hands, depending on the dance in question.
The internet says so many things. It says that the English word “pivot” comes from older words that meant pin, point, the place on which something turns. Pue, in Old French, meant the “tooth of a comb.” Before plastics, human beings made combs from diverse materials. Archaeologists have found combs made of bone, tortoiseshell, ivory, rubber, iron, tin, gold, silver, lead, reeds, wood, glass, porcelain, and papier-mâché. In cave-people’s caves, they have unearthed fragments of combs made of stone.
Future historians will have more to work with. How will they parse our society’s weird kinds of common knowledge? All the things that we know to be things without quite knowing what they are?
To many English speakers who were paying attention to the internet in the 2010s, the word “pivot” became a commonplace. Around the middle of that decade, a number of tech companies, especially Facebook, signaled that they would prioritize video henceforth. Meaning, their algorithms would rank video content higher than word or picture content in users’ newsfeeds, all other factors, like likes, being the same.
The data said that video was more engaging than words, or so Facebook said. A few years later, it turned out, this had been a mistake or maybe even a lie, but it was done. Media companies had laid off writers, in the hopes of creating content that could capture more digital ad dollars, and pivot had become part of a digital ironist’s lexicon. Horse broke its leg, so we had to take it out back and help it ‘pivot to video,’ said one blog. Pivot meant trying to recover from failure or error, but also became a joke about how you did it, covering for the way others had been thrown under the bus along the way.
It made sense in an industry based on scalable software, an industry that had long valued companies in terms of their number of users. If value resides in number of users, why not use them for something else? It was everything we never wanted at Logic.
In October 2016, a group of friends in San Francisco put up a website. The website said we would soon start putting out a print magazine. What were we thinking?
We were thinking, we wanted to make a place for people to publish the kinds of pieces we ourselves wanted to read about technology. We were thinking, we would give ourselves one issue. If, after that issue, we were not losing money, we would keep going. But above all, we were thinking, we needed an occasion to throw parties. In the era of pivot-to-video, it was the only reasonable reason to start a paper magazine.
The party thing was a joke, but like all jokes, was partly serious. We wanted to bring people together, not only within the pages of the magazine but also in little rooms you had to cram into.
Our timing turned out to be fortuitous, in one sense. The election of Donald Trump, with his open support of various manosphere creeps and white nationalists, and his stated desire to use digital technology to build a “Muslim registry,” caused a lot of people in the tech industry to think differently about what they were building. The magazine ended up developing alongside a new tech worker movement, whose participants and fellow travelers shaped our thinking and often contributed to our pages.
And if, in the first months, friends on the East Coast had asked what did we mean, a little magazine that thinks about the tech industry, soon it seemed all kinds of publications were pivoting to do the same. An entire field of tech criticism materialized. It became a modest career. The companies themselves metabolized it in various ways. Revelations about misbehaving executives and algorithms accumulated in the years that followed. Some of the same people who had led the “pivot to video” were now talking about a “tech backlash,” or “techlash.” We did too.
But, even if our little magazine professed irreverence, and occasionally made a point of bursting certain bubbles, our goal was never critique for its own sake. We believed the opposite of hype was not pessimism, which could be its own kind of racket, but specificity. We wanted to pay closer attention to how things work and to the people who made them. Attention is a form of prayer, a philosopher once said.
And it was through this specificity that we forged connections, made a community. This is the better version of pivot: recognizing that human relationships can evolve; that the entities that are linked by a network are rarely static; that there is something about the possibility of connection held out by digital technologies that is worth keeping faith with.
To pivot is to turn, and see the same room from a new angle. The pieces in this issue talk about the many challenges that such change can present. Even when there is a lot of money to be made by promising that offline can smoothly translate into online, life into data, there are residuals and resistances, as when trying to datafy complex systems of information involved in shipping and customs. And some apparently progressive changes are not, in fact; as other authors in this issue argue, the shift from the open web to corporate social platforms, while it granted unprecedented visibility to some social movements, impeded the construction of meaningful collective power.
This issue also reveals the instances of possibility that come from a new point of view. One piece places hope in neither abolishing nor co-opting data but in re-routing it. Another examines how the pandemic has forced tech worker organizers to look at questions of safety and community in novel ways.
Pivoting can also be a way to look back. This issue will be the last under the direction of Logic’s founding editors. And, at risk of indulgence, it retrospects. It contains interviews and reflections that go into detail about the work of making a magazine. And it contains reminiscences from some people we met along the way, people who helped inspire the project from the start.
With this, we hand things off to the new leadership, who will bring a new focus. Both through their editorial process and their model for producing the magazine, they will aim to draw in voices and perspectives that remain outside, underexplored, and yet essential to thinking about technology in the changing present, to make sure it’s not the changing same.
For now, we want to say how much we cherish the readers we have found. We hope you will hold on to what we have made, and care for it enough, to make it something else.