Newsletter: The History of Nostalgia, The Advantage Of Being A Little Underemployed, new tunes from Yasmine Hamdan and more

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Schreiber’s Hummingbird, from Birds of the Tropics series (N38) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes (1889) : The MET

Arts and Culture

Maria Loh On Lives Of Artists

We may live in the age of selfie but we’ve always been self-absorbed. Maria Loh, author of Still Lives: Death, Desire, and the Portrait of the Old Masteroutlines five books which address the history of the curated self with an emphasis on artists who painted their own portraits to cement their legacy.

“Art was a form of visual philosophy written with brushes and chisels rather than with pen and ink”

fivebooks.com

+ Before the self-portrait, the rise of ownership of mirrors in the 15th century gave people their first feeling of individuality.

Look back with danger

Nostalgia didn’t always have a positive tone. In fact, before the 20th century, the word was used in the pejorative sense.

Nostalgia in those days was a technical term used and discussed primarily by specialists. In the twentieth century, however, the word has become fully demedic­alized. It now means little more than a sentimental attachment to a lost or past era, a fuzzy feeling about a soft-focus earlier time, and is more often used of an advertising campaign, a film or a memory of childhood than with regard to any strong sense of its etymology, “pain about homecoming”.

the_tls.co

Philosophy & Productivity

The Advantage Of Being A Little Underemployed

It’s crazy to think that a hundred years after the Adamson Act passed, we’re still working the same eight-hour shifts designed for railroad workers. Given that most of us work in front of computers and our best ideas come when we step outside it, how can we free up more time to think? Writes Morgan Housel:

“Tell your boss you found a trick that will make you more creative and productive, and they ask what you’re waiting for. Tell them that your trick is taking a 90-minute walk in the middle of the day, and they says no, you need to work.”

collaborativefund.com

Platonically irrational

We think modernity is superior to the past. But we too can be intellectually overconfident. “When Kahneman writes that we are ‘blind to our blindness’, he is reviving the Socratic idea that wisdom consists in seeing one’s blindness: knowing what you do not know.” Within all facts and reasoning, there’s still a little room for doubt.

This is only a preliminary step in Plato’s dialogues – a (good-natured) reaching after fact and reason should and does occur – but an initial tolerance of uncertainty is a capacity without which individuals and societies cannot adequately self-correct and improve. 

aeon.com

Social Media & Technology

Notes From An Emergency

The internet companies are not only American-based, but their manifest destiny also makes them look like hegemonic colonizers.

“This is a dilemma of the feudal internet. We seek protection from these companies because they can offer us security. But their business model is to make us more vulnerable, by getting us to surrender more of the details of our lives to their servers, and to put more faith in the algorithms they train on our observed behavior.”

idlewords.com

The Library of Congress Wants to Destroy Your Old CDs (for Science)

CDs were once expensive, plastic things. But they were built really cheap. I just tried popping on an old Chemical Brothers mix, and it didn’t even play. Blame the sharpie.

It’s also better not to muck up the top of your CDs with labels—the adhesive creates chemical reactions that quickly eat up data—or even permanent markers. “The moment you start to write on that top layer, you’re setting yourself up for degradation.”

theatlantic.com

Digging in the Crates

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Shanti Celeste is an up and coming house producer from Bristol, England. Her latest 2-track EP features the jungle healer ‘Make Time,’ combining a rich collection of synths and electronic breaks. A real treat.

Listen

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Yasmine Hamdan is a Parisian-based electronic musician who grew up in war-torn Lebanon. While’s she gained a reputation in the Middle East as an underground artist, her latest solo record Al Jamilat plans to unleash her to a broader audience. The track ‘La Ba’den’ offers dreamy electronic Arab vibes. Compelling stuff.

Listen

Thought of the Week

“Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

Martin Luther King Jr.


For more interesting reads and new music, follow along on Instagram, Facebook, or the Twitter feed. You can also subscribe to the blogs: wellsbaum.blog and bombtune.comIf you dig the blogs and want to support them, make a donation, buy a book, or email this post to a friend.

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The music we play


Vinyl, cassette tapes, CDs, and MP3s were at one point mass produced. They were placeholders, meant to expire at the mercy of technological change and evolving listening habits.

So if we take the stream, a file-type that’s in infinite cloud-based inventory, what type of file emerges next?

The next development will focus on the quality of sound, just as mobile cameras improve the quality of resolution. And like photography’s countless editing tools, we’ll be able to work backward to tweak or filter out the type of sound we want to hear.

For instance, we can manipulate music files so they project a sound mimicking vinyl’s surface noise. We reshape it, like putting a black and white or red preset on an image.

The next evolution of music is therefore a personalized sensory experience, whether you want to hear sound in its cracked, hissy, compressed, raw state, or in its mass-marketed radio format.

Music will always be the “killer app” that people make their own.

16th century self-promotion

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Before the rise of ownership of mirrors in the 15th century, people mostly identified themselves with others. It was their reflection that made them appears as individuals.

The portable oil canvass in the 16th century accelerated the self-absorbed trend. Self-portraits became the predominant way to flaunt one’s importance and durability. Artists, in particular, were the first to latch on to painting technology to curate their image the way people edit their selfies today.

Modern day photography with software editing tools like Photoshop wishes to make people look better than they actually are, unlike the television which adds five pounds.

Either way, we’re not going to be remembered for how we looked but rather for what we contributed to the world. The work, not the selfie, is what’s going to last.

Fidget spinners

via Gizmodo 

Fidget spinners are having their biggest moment since their emergence in the 1990s.

Except this time the main problem isn’t ADD or anxiety relief but rather our mobile phone addiction.

The main reason fidget spinners are hitting mainstream is to help escape the glow of our devices.

Our smartphones are dopamine producers. When something is your wallet, camera, phone, and computer it’s nearly impossible to resist.

Boredom is scarce. People rather zap themselves than deal with their own thoughts.

Have we forgotten the benefits of solitude? The best ideas come when we’re disconnected, such as in the shower or going for a walk.

The fidget spinner is a real plea for help.

Einstein: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction.”

All images by Wells Baum (NYC)

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

— Albert Einstein

All images by Wells Baum (DC)

Life as simulation 


Is life is a simulation? Are humans genetically programmed automatons?

We can increase our chances of consciousness if we decide to live with intention and go beyond the robot.

Homo sapiens pretend to be wise men and proclaim that their knowledge and expertise are right. They are certain that they can tame the monkey mind. But we all have a tendency to be ‘blind to our blindness.’

Perhaps the most human characteristic is doubt, admitting to the vulnerabilities of our own mental software. We are broken machines.

If reality is a game, points go to the people that embrace discomfort, struggling to cope with the admission of their ignorance and dying in search of the truth.

Shadow of a doubt


The software and hardware companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook want us to trust them. The theory is that our information is better kept stored with them in a private cloud rather than with the government. Outside America, however, the NSA can collect our information without a search warrant.

The internet companies are not only American-based, their manifest destiny makes them look like hegemonic colonizers.

“This is a dilemma of the feudal internet. We seek protection from these companies because they can offer us security,” says Maciej Cegłowski. “But their business model is to make us more vulnerable, by getting us to surrender more of the details of our lives to their servers, and to put more faith in the algorithms they train on our observed behavior.”

We are all citizens of tech companies, trading privacy for free communication. But the users are the ads and coders are the kings; the latter which convert our interests and attention into ad revenue.

Technology platforms appear to be doing more harm than the good. Most recently, they’ve facilitated fake news and ushered in FOMO-hitting mental health issues.

The internet is as indispensable as water but it’s also a perceivable threat when the few that run the show are creating new problems while hesitating to solve them.

Consider ‘social snacking’


Social media allows for light touches. You can snack on a relationship by sending a friend a text or simple email just to remind them that you still value their relationship.

Even sending a happy birthday message on Facebook can help keep you top of mind.

What makes communication awkward are the long periods of silence in between. Even though people are ambiently aware of each other, they still need to follow up. 

A quick text, a like or comment, an email, or better yet, a phone call or handwritten letter, keeps you relevant. Small acts of care help preserve relationships in the long term.

If anything, social smacking helps break the ice when you do meet again face to face.

Predicting the multi-screen world in 1967

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In 1967, Rube Goldberg envisioned the future of screen culture.

What he didn’t foresee was that all of these individual devices (TV, phone, radio, camera) would converge into a single device: the smartphone.

People prefer to be distracted all the time. It makes the outside world easier to cope with. Today’s obsession with multi-screen entertainment and multitasking behavior was only a matter of time. Screens are second-nature.

Meanwhile, electricity is the pipes.

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Nostalgia: what it meant before, after and now

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Nostalgia didn’t always have a positive tone. In fact, before the 20th century, the word was used in the pejorative sense.

Nostalgia in those days was a technical term used and discussed primarily by specialists. In the twentieth century, however, the word has become fully demedic­alized. It now means little more than a sentimental attachment to a lost or past era, a fuzzy feeling about a soft-focus earlier time, and is more often used of an advertising campaign, a film or a memory of childhood than with regard to any strong sense of its etymology, “pain about homecoming”.

Today, people use the word nostalgia to look back on happier times, perhaps a slower one.

Nostalgia seems now to mark out a particular type of attention. If you call something “nostalgic”, you are suggesting that it evokes a memory of a former pleasure, a bitter-sweet recognition of the passing of time, or a sense of a lost era. To be nostalgic oneself is to experience those (possibly quietly melancholic) pleasures. It would be odd, indeed insulting, to describe the return of a concentration camp victim to Auschwitz as nostalgic.

Fantasizing about a simpler, pre-Internet world is a nostalgic reaction to rapid digital change. We’re all stuck in the whirlwind of 24/7 breaking news on social media that makes everything feel so immediate we can’t prioritize the important. 

We can’t even appreciate the moment. The present is quickly consumed and forgotten. The next iteration of nostalgia may become synonymous with experience, a world that was devoid of distorted facts and where events meant something.

In that dream of mine 


Whether through religion, materialism, or video games, the pursuit of fantasy is an inalienable right. We earn points in repeating rewarding behaviors: praying, shopping, or playing Half-Life.

Says Yuval Noah Harariof, the author of the international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind:

“The meaning of life is always a fictional story created by us humans.”

We’ll always be chasing the butterfly in our mind’s eye.

The great selfie mirage


We’ve gone from frictionless sharing to casual over-sharing to automation to ultimately all drowning in the same looking content in a morass of feeds.

Writes economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz:

“Americans spend about six times as much of their time cleaning dishes as they do golfing. But there are roughly twice as many tweets reporting golfing as there are tweets reporting doing the dishes.”

We’re more likely to check-in to the Ritz-Carlton on Facebook than the Holiday Inn. We signal to others our better selves, even if it’s half-true, yet hold back on revealing any vulnerabilities. Social media devours the happier, exaggerated stories.

Google is the sole platform that reveals the truth. It “offers digital truth serum.” We type in everything there: our worst fears to the ridiculous and unremarkable.

Furthermore, we should take anyone’s social media profile with a grain of salt. It’s the best version of us. The real anxieties exist in the search bar.

Nick Turpin on the evolution of street photography

Images by Wells Baum

“You have to be physically and mentally present to recognize these things and be ready for them, to recognize that something special is happening on the street in front of you. That really is the skill. It’s almost more important than getting the photograph. It’s recognizing the significance of something.”

— Nick Turpin, How Our Changing Cities Are Transforming Street Photography

Our third eye, be it smartphone or standalone point and shoot camera, is only as good as the two we were born with.

Life on fast-forward

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The internet complicates what it means to be productive. We trap ourselves in email and unlimited social media browsing. We eat lunch at our desks to justify your busyness when “we should go for a walk, to the coffee shop, just to get away. Even Victorian factories had some kind of rest breaks,” says workplace psychologist Michael Guttridge.

Studies repeatedly show the dangers of multitasking and continuous partial attention. By doing more, we’re immersing ourselves less. More than five minutes of Twitter a day won’t make you any better of a Tweeter, observes Seth Godin. Fast-forwarding through movies, podcasts, and books won’t allow you to go deeper into the experience. More information just makes your brain fatter.

In a world of limited attention, it pays to be bored. The brain needs time to switch off, wander, and disconnect from the 24/7 neuron-inducing chemical factory. If everything is meaningful, nothing is worth doing.