The Weekender: April 21, 2012
Welcome to The Weekender, April 21 2012 edition. This week, we’re reading…
The Jig Is Up: Time to Get Past Facebook and Invent a New Future, by Alexis Madigral, The Atlantic:
We’re there. The future that visionaries imagined in the late 1990s of phones in our pockets and high-speed Internet in the air: Well, we’re living in it.
“The third generation of data and voice communications — the convergence of mobile phones and the Internet, high-speed wireless data access, intelligent networks, and pervasive computing — will shape how we work, shop, pay bills, flirt, keep appointments, conduct wars, keep up with our children, and write poetry in the next century.”
That’s Steve Silberman reporting for Wired in 1999, which was 13 years ago, if you’re keeping count. He was right… I can take a photo of a check and deposit it in my bank account, then turn around and find a new book through a Twitter link and buy it, all while being surveilled by a drone in Afghanistan and keeping track of how many steps I’ve walked.
The question is, as it has always been: now what?
Restoring Pricelessness, by Will Davies, potlatch:
Will Davies makes starts off strong & steamrolls through this accessible post on value in society:
Simon Hoggart has a neat test which he applies to political rhetoric, to check whether or not it means anything: if it’s impossible to imagine anyone demanding the opposite of what is being argued for, then you know it’s hot air. Hence, much of what Tony Blair claimed to stand for – ‘more money in your pocket, less crime on the streets, better public services’ – wasn’t actually a set of policies or political values at all, seeing as nobody could sensibly disagree with any of it.
The central problem of voluntary or community action in a neoliberal society is this: it is far easier to move from the realm of gift exchange to the realm of calculated exchange than it is to do the opposite… Neo-classical economics therefore turns the world upside down, by assuming that calculation is ‘normal’ and that altruism is unusual… Once prices have been put on certain goods, they cannot simply be removed simply because it would be nice to remove them. The only alternative is to develop new practices, norms and techniques of valuation, to replace those of price.
Read the full argument, as this is all something we should have a [strong opinion about].
As Europe is hit by greater austerity measures, cultural institutions are experiences cuts greater than most. In Italy, this has been particularly severe with historical sites such as the Pompeii ruins being left neglected, with a number of sites, including the “House of Gladiators,” having fully collapsed.
In response, Antonio Manfredi of the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum in Naples has taken up a very controversial activism: burning his gallery’s collections in public. Three a week, until something is done about the cuts, because for Manfredi, the austerity amounts to the same effect on culture.
Overcoming Artificial Stupidity, by Steven Wolfram, Steven Wolfram:
In describing “Wolfram Alpha”, his question-answering program, Steven Wolfram goes over some of the funnier flukes his program has encountered. For example, a query for “guinea pigs” once gave the answer of “assuming ‘Guinea’ as a country, their population of pigs is…” This leads to an interesting observation on overcoming artificial stupidity:
Curiously enough, these two issues come up all the time for humans too—especially, say, when they’re talking on a bad cellphone connection, and can’t quite hear clearly.
For humans, we don’t yet know the internal story of how these things work. But in Wolfram|Alpha it’s very well defined. It’s millions of lines of Mathematica code, but ultimately what Wolfram|Alpha does is to take the fragment of natural language it’s given as input, and try to map it into some precise symbolic form (in the Mathematica language) that represents in a standard way the meaning of the input—and from which Wolfram|Alpha can compute results.
Interesting! Language is an intermediary for both people and computers, but for people, it relates back to tangible objects in the world, while for computers, it comes back to dits and the relationships between them, that natural language channels.
50 Things to Do Before You Are 11 3/4, Explore Blog:
1. Climb a tree
2. Roll down a really big hill
3. Camp out in the wild
4. Build a den
5. Skim a stone
6. Run around in the rain
7. Fly a kite
8. Catch a fish with a net
9. Eat an apple straight from a tree
… and up to 50. Even if you aren’t a kid anymore, go through and make this a checklist. I still have a few things I need to do, and a few that would be simply awesome again. Now… where are those apple trees?
The Real Leadership Lesson of Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, Harvard Business Review:
Jobs began taking his “top 100” people on a retreat each year. On the last day, he would stand in front of a whiteboard (he loved whiteboards, because they gave him complete control of a situation and they engendered focus) and ask, “What are the 10 things we should be doing next?” People would fight to get their suggestions on the list. Jobs would write them down—and then cross off the ones he decreed dumb. After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of 10. Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “We can only do three.”
Is Bad Urban Design Making Us Lonely?, by Nate Berg, Atlantic Cities:
Loneliness is a major problem for most people and has probably been studied from every angle without much consensus. Is it Facebook? Is it our economy? Is it… the way our landscape is designed? Channeling Jane Jacobs in her phenomenal Death and Life of Great American Cities (which you should read!), a new report outlines how urban spaces & physical obstacles govern our interactions. An interesting read about cities & their affect on social behaviors, though with little said of suburbs.
Small Fates, by Teju Cole
Fait divers. This is a French expression, in common use for centuries, for a certain kind of newspaper piece: a compressed report of an unusual happening. What fait divers means literally is “incidents,” or “various things.” Here is an example: ”A dishwasher from Nancy, Vital Frérotte, who had just come back from Lourdes cured forever of tuberculosis, died Sunday by mistake.”
Using Twitter as his fait divers medium, Teju Cole (@TejuCole) writes little snippets of the real life, as reported in the crime and metro newspaper section of his hometown, Lagos, Nigeria. Often, these “Small Fates” cross the line into brilliance: “Knowledge is power. He graduated in business administration in Calabar,and Charles Okon has since administered sixteen armed robberies.” But more than that, they highlight the “little causes of big effects” in every day accidents.
Older and Wiser?, The Economist:
Dr. Igor Grossmann suggested that wisdom comes with age, as the saying goes. However, when he took his research and methods to Asia, he found himself eating his universalistic words:
In as much as it is possible to quantify wisdom, Dr Grossmann found that elderly Americans had more of it than youngsters. He has, however, now extended his investigation to Asia—the land of the wizened Zen-master—and, in particular, to Japan. There, he found, in contrast to the West, that the grasshoppers are their masters’ equals almost from the beginning.
His research led him to another set of insights as well:
America is seen as an individualistic society, whereas Japan is quite collectivist. Yet Japanese have higher scores than Americans for the sort of interpersonal wisdom you might think would be useful in an individualistic society. Americans, by contrast—at least in the maturity of old age—have more intergroup wisdom than the purportedly collectivist Japanese. Perhaps, then, you need individual skills when society is collective, and social ones when it is individualistic.
Game Changers, by Wolff Olins, Wolff Olins:
Game-changing disruption might be almost a catchphrase nowadays, but the Wolff Olins Design Consultancy shows that there is something we should be doing and learning for our businesses. This report suggests five such behaviors, as well as offering a number of leading industry insights and case studies. Lego, Google, Inuit, Grameen Bank, Facebook, Apple, (RED), and Nike are all covered. Well worth a read!
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This Weekender has been compiled and excerpted by Roman Kudryashov and S. Garrity Guenther. Thank you for reading!
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