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Arts Creativity Culture Writing

Maria Popova: I loathe the term “content”

Brain Pickings blogger Maria Popova sat down with WordPress in the Own Your Content series to discuss evergreen ideas and rethinking the meaning of content.

Popova writes about timeless topics. “I am drawn to ideas that remain resonant across time and space, across cultures and civilizations.” If you read her blog, you know that she excels in digging up little-known gems from primary sources and combining them in an interesting way.

Her talent reminds me of what professor Kenneth Goldsmith of the University of Pennsylvania said about education in the internet era: “an educated person in the future will be a curious person who collects better artifacts. The ability to call up and use facts is the new education. How to tap them, how to use them.”

Maria excels in making old content relevant again. Following her blog is a direct line to her insatiable curiosity.

In this sense, then, it naturally inclines toward what you call “evergreen” — which I take to mean enduring ideas that hold up across the years, decades, and centuries, and continue to solace and give meaning undiminished by time.

Yet, she also dislikes the word content as it compels merchants to race the bottom in the form of attention-seeking missiles:

I loathe the term “content” as applied to cultural material — it was foisted upon us by a commercially driven media industry that treats human beings as mindless eyeballs counted in statistics like views and likes, as currency to be traded against advertising revenue. Somehow people have been sold on the idea that the relationship between ads and “content” is a symbiotic one, but it is a parasitic one.

While tech may be the cigarette of the century,  the internet does provide space for writers like Maria Popova to demonstrate combinatorial creativity in the name of the hyperlink. If used properly, the internet can be a learning machine rather than a propaganda tool.

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Culture Politics & Society Video

Remembering MLK in restored NBC video

In some rarely-seen footage from 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. talks about the new phase of the Civil Rights movement for “genuine equality.” For 26 minutes, he’s just as eloquent and sincere as you imagined:

“It is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps…And many Negroes, by the thousands and millions, have been left bootless … as the result of a society that deliberately made his color a stigma…”

King was assassinated 11 months later. Today marks the 50th anniversary of his death.

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Culture Fashion

Get the cool shoeshine!

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gif via Emanuele Colombo

“Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of societies: those where you can get a shoe shine and those where you can’t,” wrote Roger Cohen in a 2008 Op-ed.

Americans love their shoe shines. The opposite is true of egalitarian societies like France where such a cleaning service “rubs the Gallic egalitarian spirit the wrong way.” But in New York and Chicago, shoe shiners are aplenty.

“There’s something about having someone applying polish to a blithe client’s boots that comforts American notions of free enterprise, make-a-buck opportunism and the survival of the fittest.”

Yet, as Thomas Chatterton Williams so wisely notes, there’s a price to pay for brutal capitalism. As an American expat living in France, he writes:  “it’s also nice to live in a society where not everything is for sale. When I landed back in Paris, I placed my heavy bags on a luggage cart, which I unlocked free of charge. It would have set me back $6 in New York.”

Quid pro quo.

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Culture Productivity & Work Tech Video

‘The right to disconnect’ 📱

Stop working from home and get some rest. Even better, plan some unscheduled time.

Sincerely,

France

Wait, what?

On January 1st of this year, France passed the ‘right to disconnect‘ law which enforces a digital diet outside working hours. The rule prohibits employers from calling or emailing employees during personal time. France already imposes 35-hour works weeks.

It’s still too early to tell if French citizens are actually abiding by the rule meant to restore sanity in our always-on culture. But the intent is the right one: we need to create more space for relaxation. Keep in mind that our brains are working even when they’re powered off 💤. Disconnecting is a right, even if it feels a little foreign to put to rectangular glow aside

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Arts Creativity Culture Tech

The making of Isle of Dogs + VSCO presets for the film

Twenty-seven animators worked on the new Wes Anderson flick Isle of Dogs. This video demonstrates some of the techniques and challenges they faced in production.

According to one of the creators, “one of the hardest things to do in animation is a walk.” So they strapped cameras to the backs of dogs to understand a canine’s movements and other points of view.

VSCO releases Isle of Dogs Presets

Photo editing app VSCO released some filters to help promote the movie. I took some photos of my dog and applied the presets.  DOG 2 gives the images a yellow tint while DOG 3 adds a pink hue to images.

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DOG 2 preset

Processed with VSCO with dog3 preset
DOG 3 preset

Categories
Culture Politics & Society

The Wild West of data manipulation

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gif by Ryan Seslow

Tech entrepreneurs are coming to realize their moral responsibility.

Outside parties were abusing stolen Facebook data to develop psychological profiles of voters. The data-mining company Cambridge Analytica was central to the information warfare. They allegedly worked with Russians to stoke fears in the UK and America on immigration and other polarizing issues. So people got fake news and conspiracy theories in their feeds which led to Brexit and Trump.

28-year-old whistleblower Christopher Wylie who admittedly ‘made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’ at Cambridge Analytica is leading the charge against the product he helped build.

If data is the new oil, social platforms are the biggest propaganda machines.

Facebook is like an adult video game. People are obsessed with the sensational. And reality pays the price of fabricated events.

‘Move fast and break things’ may be a popular hacker’s motto but it’s shown to breed more carelessness than good. Thankfully, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are facing up to the truth that while their tools bring us closer together but they also tear the world apart.

The damage has been done. The question now is how will they fix it? Some argue that the crackdown on Cambridge Analytic is just the start. Others like Om Malik are less optimistic. Pumping users and engagement are in Facebook’s DNA regardless of the consequences. Om writes:

Facebook is about making money by keeping us addicted to Facebook. It always has been — and that’s why all of our angst and headlines are not going to change a damn thing.

More to chew on here…

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Business Culture Video

Simon Sinek: Do little things

Consistency is a series of small efforts that over time add up to create a big impact. Seth Godin calls this ‘the drip.’ Simon Sinek refers to them as ‘the little things.’

Do small things. They add up.

Little things are the deeds one fulfills over a period of time. Whether it’s for love or business, good habits strengthen relationships and build trust.

It turns out that honesty and unselfishness are good for companies and good for life.

Sinek’s latest book Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team (Amazon) came out last September.

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Culture Tech

Instantly graded and discarded

via giphy

Does anyone spend time with anything anymore? We devour and discard. How can we attach meaning in such a short window of time?

Those that can hold their patience enjoy the experience of absorption. They don’t fritter away their relationship with people, albums, books, or other objects.

A culture of haste knows no slowing down, especially in an age of abundant images, texts, and breaking news. The constant bombardment eats away at the sense of self. We hardly make enough time to sit alone with the pure medicine of our own thoughts. It’s no wonder why Erik Hagerman moved to the woods in Ohio to become the most ignorant man in America.

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Culture Science Tech

The tale behind the term ‘horsepower’ 🐎

The terms ‘horsepower’ and ‘10,000 steps’ were both marketing gimmicks.

In the 1770s, James Watt wanted to demonstrate that his steam engine invention was more powerful than the work of multiple horses. By watching horses circle a London brewery mill, he calculated that one horse could push 33,000 pounds one foot in a minute. He proved that his one steam engine could not only replicate a horse’s power but that mechanical speed could also improve production rates.

Watt substituted horses, formerly called “living machines” by replacing them with the Watt Steam Engine. After that, a horses’ primary functionality became transport. Even “as late as 1900′, more than 11,000 Bostonians earned their living driving horses.”

The “10,000 step meter” 👣

Meanwhile, watchmaker Yamasa Tokei created a pedometer in 1965 which he called Manpo-Kei. The words in Japanese translate to “10,000 step meter.” Tokei ran ads that encourage “Let’s walk 10,000 steps a day!”

While the 10,000 steps a day campaign was entirely arbitrary, it revolutionized the fitness world just as the steam engine transformed engineering and powered the Industrial Revolution. Both the horsepower and 10,000 steps cases are good examples of smart marketing, using the power of a metaphor to explain new technology.

The even bigger question remains though is that what happens when humans no longer have to use their feet, hands, or even their brains? As Matthew Wills writes in ‘Why We Still Use “Horsepower”, the future of working with machines is probably brighter than we think:

Humans now worry about replacement by machines, but horses have already experienced this and for them it may well have been a good thing.

Categories
Culture Science

‘I wish I was a little bit smaller’

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Nicholas Kulish is 6 foot 8 inches. Towering about the average American height of 5 foot 8, society is simply not built for him. As if a tight plane seat isn’t burdensome enough, “Why do we bob and weave around the New York City subway in a strange dance?,” Kulish writes, “Are we performing for money from our fellow passengers? No, we’re just trying not to hit our heads on the metal bars that others reach up to grab.”

It’s not easy being a giant, or a little person, or any anomaly for that matter. What we know today as ‘average’ goes back to Belgian astronomer/mathematician Adolphe Quetelet, who in 1817 aggregated the mean chest size of five thousand Scottish soldiers, setting a precedent for human statistics. Abraham Lincoln mass-produced uniforms for the Union army during the Civil War. The US military also went on to standardize both uniforms and airplanes in 1926, “the distance to the pedals and the stick, and even the shape of the flight helmets.” Thus was born the bell curve.

While homogenizing average body types help simplify manufacturing and designing infrastructure, the industrial mindset makes it a challenge for outliers to thrive.

“Tall people are always trying to blend in, to keep our giant feet from tripping you at the movie theater, our elbows from cracking your heads on the dance floor. Much of our time is spent trying to shrink, to alleviate the extreme conspicuousness that is our condition.”

Normal is boring

Height compels Kulish’s identity, whether he likes or not. It is a part of him he’s come to accept and appreciate, acknowledging his bigness. Brooklynites call him Nowitzki or Porzingis out in public for being the only white guy with arms like tree branches reaching out into a sea of ants. You’d have to be ground level and face to face to pinpoint Lionel Messi in a crowd. But there are some advantages to tallness too; he can see what most people can’t.

If you invite us into your homes we will know what the top of your refrigerator looks like. (You should clean it. It’s been a while. Trust me.) We do have our uses. It probably goes without saying that we should be taking pictures for you at concerts, not to mention portraits of you, since the downward angle is the most flattering.

There is no shame in being tall, nor short, for the matter. No one wants to be called a Frankenstein nor a carnie with small hands. Being different makes one forcibly pay attention, develop sympathy for others who have similar disadvantages, and find new ways of surviving that makes them more nimble than others. The weird and different underdogs may have to work a little harder, but in doing so, they are developing advantages that normal folks can’t replicate.

Read Notes on Being Very Tall

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