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Apps Social Media Tech

Win back your attention by turning your screen gray 📱⬜👀

The variety of colors on our smartphone screens pop like candy. As advertiser Bruce Barton wrote in his 1925 book In The Man Nobody Knows, “The brilliant plumage of the bird is color advertising addressed to the emotions.”

We tap into Instagram, scroll through a few photos, and return to the home screen to bounce off to other apps. And then we repeat the process again in a mindless fashion.

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After a while, we start to lose all conscious brain power. We fly between apps like we’re hitting buttons at the casino. The variable rewards keep us spinning in a ludic loop. Technology undermines our attention by bombarding our senses with a surfeit of stimuli that lights up like a Christmas tree.

Turn it gray. That’s right: we need to dull our screens to bore our senses. Turning the phone grayscale doesn’t make it dumb, it just makes it less attractive. Writes Nellie Bowles in the New York Times:

I’m not a different person all of a sudden, but I feel more in control of my phone, which now looks like a tool rather than a toy. If I unlock it to write an email, I’m a little less likely to forget the goal and tap on Instagram. If I’m waiting in line for coffee, this gray slab is not as delightful a distraction as it once was.

Want to give your thumbs a break and regain some attention? Study the instructions on Lifehacker on how to turn your screen grayscale.

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Apps Creativity Social Media Tech Video

Your vocation chooses you

We all start out with a dream, a goal of someone or something we want to emulate. We keep that dream close, putting up bedroom posters and memorizing phrases that propel us to keep pushing toward our goal.

But then something else happens along the way? The creative gods tell us to do something else instead.

“The grind is not glamorous.”

Casey Neistat wanted to be a filmmaker, another Spielberg that entertained the masses. But he didn’t have enough money nor resources. So he chased the dream for ten years and succeeded: he entered Cannes and won some awards etc. until one day he realized he was pursuing the wrong end. “Fuck it,” he said. “I just want to make internet videos.”

See, when we hunt down goals, we usually get redirected to something else that’s more personal. Technology broke down all the barriers to traditional creativity, production, and distribution. YouTube is Neistat’s movie theater.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself

Sure, imitate at first and get really good — everything is practice. But we shouldn’t forget to reflect and dive deeper into a passion that excites us the most. As Jim Carrey said, ‘your vocation chooses you.’

Don’t fight what’s natural even if no one else is doing it yet. Give in to the original inclinations and push onward.

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Tech

Make it new

“Reality is an activity of the most august imagination,” wrote poet Wallace Stevens.

What we call reality emerged from human ingenuity. So if we can take today’s tools and use them for good, we’ll naturally have a better future.

Instead, we are building technology that paints a future dystopia. Hackers hijacked Facebook, Google, and Twitter and filled them with fake news during the 2016 election. What did we think was going to happen with free-flowing information?

“The art of debugging a computer program is to figure out what you really told the computer to do instead of what you thought you told it to do,” quipped Andrew Singer, director of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois. Meanwhile, Amazon is replacing its workers with bots.

While we can expect software manipulation to continue, there are still reasons to be hopeful. As Tim O’Reilly points out, we should be looking at ways to work with artificial intelligence to fuel productivity and innovation.

We have to make it new. That’s a wonderful line from Ezra Pound that’s always stuck in my brain: “Make it new.” It’s not just true in literature and in art, it’s in our social conscience, in our politics. We have look at the world as it is and the challenges that are facing us, and we have to throw away the old stuck policies where this idea over here is somehow inescapably attached to this other idea. Just break it all apart and put it together in new ways, with fresh ideas and fresh approaches.

We have a choice: we can deny optimism and permit darkness, or we can build a brighter future. For every time Google chooses to be evil, or Facebook invades our privacy in an attempt to make stockholders happy, there’s another rocket Elon Musk is building that takes us from New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes.

There’s a lot to be hopeful for, as experiments should continue to be encouraged. The real question is how we can create a society for rapid technological advancement and reflexive sociopolitical change. How do ‘we make it new’ without throwing out the stuff that made it right in the first place?

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Creativity Culture Life & Philosophy Tech

Making for the micro

People always made art. Now, we just make it and share it in abundance.

But all the noise makes it impossible for aspiring creators to stand out.

On the flip side, the bell curve is widening from the masses to the niches. We can build an audience around sub-genres at scale for the first time ever; the Internet helps us stay connected.

Once we shift our strategy from marketing to everyone to marketing to the micro, we set ourselves up to make deeper work that lasts.

Your weirdness is not only acceptable, it’s mainstream.

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Psychology Tech

A brain without a body

Artificial intelligence is like a brain without a body. 

Instead of billions of neurons, computers contain bits and bytes of varying voltage levels so they can do stuff like provide directions, select and edit our best photos, or beat humans at chess.

Deep Blue beat Kasparov not by matching his insight and intuition but by overwhelming him with blind calculation. Thanks to years of exponential gains in processing speed, combined with steady improvements in the efficiency of search algorithms, the computer was able to comb through enough possible moves in short enough time to outduel the champion. 

Nicholas Carr, A Brutal Intelligence: AI, Chess, and the Human Mind
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Machines contain faster processors than human brains. Even the most effective Ritalin in the world would leave humans trailing behind its fellow instrument. 

The irony, of course, is that AI is a factory of nothingness without human programming. Computers are ‘competent without comprehension,’ chugging along like a human does on automatic pilot.

If anything, we need to augment humans with machines. Thanks to Elon Musk, we’re nearly there.

We’re a brain chip away from the computer-powered brain, scampering closer to superhuman cyborgs. 

Becoming the tools of our tools, the brain with a body comes back to finish the chess game first. 

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Creativity Productivity & Work Social Media Writing

Why everyone should blog

Everyone should blog. You do not have to publish 500 words a day. You do not even need to post at all. In fact, writing comes easier when you can write for yourself, in private.

Use a smartphone journal like the Day One app or the ever-popular Morning Pages Journal where you write by hand. When it comes to blogging effectively, you have to be a little vulnerable. Don’t tell all but don’t hide everything either, especially if your advice will benefit the lives of other people.

Everyone should write a blog, every day, even if no one reads it. There’s countless reasons why it’s a good idea and I can’t think of one reason it’s a bad idea.” 

Seth Godin

I have been blogging for years (click here to view my guide to setting up a blog on WordPress). It is harder to get an audience who cares to read your stuff today than it has ever been. You have to assume nobody wants to read your shit because he or she is busy or would rather be social networking or playing games instead. However, for those readers who do read your blog frequently, they have subscribed for a reason.

Luis Suarez has been blogging since 2002 and recently offered some advice about using your blog to reflect the real you.

It’s all about having a meaningful presence and how you work your way to make it happen, to leave a legacy behind, to share your thoughts and ideas others can learn from just like you do yourself with other people’s vs. pretending to be who you are not…Just be yourself with your own thoughts and share them along! It is what we all care for, eventually. The rest is just noise.”

Luis Suarez

No, blogging is not dead

People like to say blogging is dead. But not only are new platforms emerging like Medium, but blogging is just writing. Words will always be a powerful way to say something meaningful, whether it is in print, online, graffiti, or the walls of a cave.

I started this blog so I could show the world what interests me. It is no surprise that what you read here is information I learned from other blogs. In other words, blogging acts like a canvass where you synthesize, remix and interpret in your words.

Blogs are like ham­mers. They are tools for building stuff.”

Hugh MacLeod
Why everyone should blog
Art by Hugh MacLeod

Above all, blogging is free, what Seth Godin calls “the last great online bargain.” Blogging gives you a voice, and it is an excellent incentive to think in a world that just wants us to consume.

Blogging is a bicep curl for the brain. Write daily, and practice the art of conviction.

Use your blog to connect. Use it as you. Don’t “network” or “promote.” Just talk.”

Neil Gaiman
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Apps Arts Creativity Social Media Tech

When will digital art get its due?

Digital art is easier to create. Photoshop, Prisma filters — anyone can be an artist by throwing a filter on an image. People associate handwork with hard work over hardware and software.

To quote journalist David Carr: “show me what you’ve made with your own two dirty little hands. I don’t really care what you say, I want to see what you’ve done.”

Digital art gets overlooked for a few reasons:

  1. Digital art is easier to create. Photoshop, Prisma filters — anyone can be an artist by throwing a filter on an image. People associate hand work with hard work over hardware and software. To quote journalist David Carr: “show me what you’ve made with your own two dirty little hands. I don’t really care what you say, I want to see what you’ve done.”
  2. Digital art is replicable. Anything digitized has an inventory of one. MP3s crushed the music industry because the same file could be shared a million times over. The same goes for art, which gets reshared on social media on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest. Seeing the art on a screen rather than at a museum makes it feel less palpable. People like to touch things, or at least feel so.
  3. Digital art is valueless. The auction houses put a premium on traditional art simply because it is scarce. Originals will always outsell copies. Would you rather own a piece Banksy drew with his bare hands or a copy?

Digital art is easy to assess — art is art, we first taste with our eyes — what’s hard is how much value to place on it. Says columnist Marc Spiegler in his article in Time Magazine: 

“For decades, art and tech have done an awkward, fitful dance, never fully committing to each other”

But digital art is getting a deeper appreciation. Whether it’s 3D printed buildings, Pixar animation, or an Oculus Rift virtual reality film, art and technology are coming together to redefine the interpretation of art. Art is also getting more collaborative and remixed within a community of creators.

“Artists collaborate with a rotating cast of sparring partners all over the globe, not only other artists, but also writers, coders, fashion designers, electronica musicians, etc.”

Computers minimize the barrier to entry in creating art. The tool (your hand or mouse) and the palette (software) are at your disposal. In the words of John Culkin: “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” What’s going to separate the amateurs from the professionals is how deep and deliberate the artist wants to do.

Digital art is blooming because it is evolving with technology, which is changing people’s tastes. Hand painting may always be pricier, but that does not make them more superior. The value is in the eye of the beholder.

gif by Silvia Gulmaraens

Categories
Creativity Tech

This professor describes the future educated person

Dear digital denizens, please rest easy.

That so-called ‘internet addiction’ you have is an evolution of what humans have been doing along — curating, collecting, and sharing. We just do it with more often with the assistance of our screens.

According to professor Kenneth Goldsmith at the University of Pennsylvania, “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.”

Professor Goldsmith named his course “Wasting Time on the Internet”– an incentive that gets his students to sign up. However, it has the opposite effect. Instead of screen-staring, his students are more likely to create and collaborate.

“They became more creative with each other. They say we’re less social; I think people on the web are being social all the time. They say we’re not reading; I think we’re reading all the time, just online.”

The web is the world’s biggest copy-paste machine. On top of this, Google is our second brain. The fear is that humans will lose their ability to think. However, what happens instead is that we allow more ideas to have sex. Remixing ideas is what Maria Popova of Brainpickings often refers to as “combinatorial creativity.”

“When a D.J. brings a laptop full of music samples to a club he doesn’t play an instrument, but we don’t argue that he isn’t doing something creative in mixing those sounds to create his own effect. In the online world the only thing you’re the master of is your collection, your archive, and how you use it, how you remix it. We become digital archivists, collecting and cataloging things. I find it exciting.”

It turns out that wasting time on the Internet could be productive rather than harmful. To think the Internet also means the end of books and face to face communication is also an exaggeration. Of course, like any tool, it depends on what you are using the Internet for — playing games is not the same as sharing research and new ideas.

What’s your opinion on learning in the Internet age? Tweet at me.