Variations on a human theme


We’re all variations on a human theme, containing multitudes.

Some of the variations are more versatile than others. The brain’s wiring is more amenable to uncertainty than chasing exactitude.

The rare breeds prefer to keep the ball in the air, playing the piano with no end in sight. Time is constant, and so is their search of novelty.

But every person is their own ‘CEO of Me, Inc,’ for which the fractions of uniqueness are the great equalizer.

Difference is always celebrated. The theme, yet, remains immutable. That is until the cyborgs take their course.

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We are a plastic society

We have become a plastic society, with celebrities (not leaders) running the world stage and ‘geniuses‘ creating culture.

While social media gives everyone a microphone, it also permits mediocrity to rise up to the professional level. When these influencers take public responsibility, they can further colonize large parts of our mind. To echo Hannah Arendt on the rise of totalitarianism, evil spreads like a fungus.

But we have a choice: we can stem the tide or turn a blind eye and do nothing.

The history books always prompt its students to ask why no one ever did anything to stop such cruelty.

And now we know why.

The fate of click-bait

At the heart of the web’s self-destruction is contagious media: crazy cat pics and the entire Buzzfeedification of the internet.

Every site, even reputable ones, raced to the bottom because celebrity sideboob and stupid human and pet tricks drove clicks.

Writes Tim Wu in The Attention Merchants:

“Contagious media is the kind of media you immediately want to share with all your friends. This requires that you take pleasure in consuming the media but also pleasure in the social process of passing it on.”

“Contagious media is a form of pop conceptual art” in which “the idea is the machine that makes the art (LeWitt, 1967) and the idea is interesting to ordinary people.”

The clickbait craziness spawned an albatross of more ridiculous news, some of it fake news. As Zeynep Tufekci says in her TED Talk, “We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads.”

And now we’re living with the repercussions of confused algorithms and companies like Facebook and Twitter avoiding responsibility.

A cartoon by @lisarothstein. #TNYcartoons

A post shared by The New Yorker Cartoons (@newyorkercartoons) on

 

We are psychologically vulnerable to social media games. If we want stupid, we’ll get stupid. And anything that requires some thought and effort will fade away.

‘Podcasts are the audio of our time’

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gif by @hoppip

“Podcasts are the audio of our time. They can be beautifully produced, as good as a good book, and perhaps they will supersede radio. But there’s something about the knowledge that countless others are listening to the same thing as me, at the same time as me, that can’t be replaced. When I listen to radio from other time zones, I am reminded that I do not move through times of day but rather they move through me. Somewhere in the world, it is always far too late to be up listening to the radio”

Read On The Radio, It’s Always Midnight

The design of the classroom from 1750 to today






The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids by Alexandra Lange 

The design of the classroom is a technology, and you can interpret that in a lot of different ways. Architects can make that look more, and less, typical. But the point is the instruction, the interaction in the classroom, not that it looks more like a circle or more like a square or whatever else.

(via NPR)

The unclassifiable

When we stop becoming someone for everyone, we start to find the right people instead.

That’s not to say we want to remain unknown or unclassifiable. One can still ride the wave of uniqueness and make a big splash.

Do you think Radiohead cares about the pop charts? The band thrives at the fringes, showing fans where sound could be headed, not where it’s been.

People love Apple because they make instruments for creativity you never knew you’d need. It also gives its customers, the curators and creators, all the spotlight.

We don’t have to dumb down our work for the masses when we can make more interesting things for the micro. Wider adoption, should it happen, happens to the ideas worth spreading.

Helmut Lang’s “Global Taxi Project”

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Helmut Lang became the first fashion brand to advertise on New York City taxicabs in 1998. Such spots were typically reserved for Broadway shows.

Twenty years later, the brand is bringing the mobile ads back on 275 New York City taxis along with an exclusive globally-promoted taxi hoodie on its website.

Check out the video of the Hong Kong cabbie sporting the new top.

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The lost desire to pick up your phone 👋📵

We invented the telephone out of the desire to communicate. We developed the internet to increase connectivity and expand our reach. Thomas Friedman summed up the borderless Earth by writing ‘The World Is Flat.’

The facilitation of immediacy through text and social media killed the telephone ring. According to a recent Atlantic article from Alexis Madrigal:

“No one picks up the phone anymore. Even many businesses do everything they can to avoid picking up the phone. Of the 50 or so calls I received in the last month, I might have picked up four or five times. The reflex of answering—built so deeply into people who grew up in 20th-century telephonic culture—is gone.”

What novelty or variety of internet tools will we see next?

The infusion of bots and AI-driven conversations further complicate the human will to communicate.

Whether it’s Siri or Alexa, the urge to chat means anyone or anything that responds will be on-demand. No one will place calls unless they can guarantee a receiver on the other end.

The cell phone ring follows in the footsteps of ringtones, not dead but annoying. With mindfulness on the verge, push messages may be next to be silenced while snail mail and email inboxes will continue to go unread.

Art as stimuli

gif by SambMotion

We need art just as we need food. Yes, art is unnecessary. It is “everything you don’t have to do,” as Brian Eno put it. But it’s also the fuel that powers emotions and deeper thinking.

“Music is, to me, proof of the existence of God. It is so extraordinarily full of magic, and in tough times of my life I can listen to music and it makes such a difference.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

Alter an image, modify a sound. It doesn’t matter if the visual or the audible illustrate irreality. For the maker and the viewer, art offers an exit out of happiness.

Inspiration is stimuli

Art helps drive human progress. It is a snapshot in time, illustrating the context and habits of now and yesterday. Cinemagraphs of waves reminds us that water controls the Earth. Images of loose plastic remind us not to dump problems on tomorrow.

Art reminds us to slow down, to compel ourselves to see the beauty of what’s already there. So obsessed with innovation, especially in the chase of ephemeral pixels, it’s easy to forget how we had it before. We must build responsibly.

“Another flaw in human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Stylization is inessential. But it drives culture. It ensures the durability of both uniqueness and artifice.

The sorcery of screens

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The internet never ends. Mountains of content are piling up as we speak.

The hook is neither in our control or that of technology. We pull the lever, the slot machine spits out a variable reward.

It’s impossible to disentangle ourselves from the mindlessness of a ludic loop. With more data, the machine grows smarter and more manipulative.

But we can’t fault our own blindness, zombie scrolling in the sorcery of screens.

All the while, the trees are abundant, pumping oxygen into nature and encouraging humans to rejoin the broken.

Tethered to the magic of screens, we feed the data distilleries with our oil and reap cheap entertainment pellets in return. There is no quid pro quo. We are competent and conscious only in our dreams, awaiting that return to an archaic form of life.

The new journalism, where fame is the game

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We worship celebrities like they’re the new Gods but they’re as fallible as we are.

We obsess with the famous for being famous. First, we had reality tv and then social media gave us the Kardashians and Trump.

Is this how the media wants to harvest our attention and chip away at human decency?

Reporters will continue to dupe a distracted public with attention-seeking missiles. The buzzfeedication of the web has taken over.


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Art by Etalpmet

We are stuck in click-bait culture

If a good journalist is supposed to write what they see and leave it to the world to interpret, then they better start choosing better subjects. At least more interesting ones.

Let’s start with this rule: No more graduation speeches to those who were famous for 15 minutes.

 

Newsletter: Nappuccinos, audio illusions, and Tesla’s American experience

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The audio illusion

Each week I like to highlight some the articles written on this blog in a condensed format. It reminds me to take a step back and review why I thought it was worth posting in the first place. If you enjoy these reads, you can sign up here to get the weekly newsletter delivered directly to your inbox. 

Interesting Digs

How taking an afternoon ‘nappuccino’ increases productivity. If you start to zone out around 2 and 3 pm (thank you circadian rhythm), you may benefit from a pre-nap coffee. Remember: “The caffeine won’t fully engage in your bloodstream for about 25 minutes, so drink up right before you lie down.”

Tesla: American Experience. Motivated by wonder and awe, he exploited his imagination to foresee the wireless networking and cell phones we have today. Tesla was an artist working with dreams and visions but “his medium was electricity.” Excellent documentary on the magician on PBS.

This is what happens when you reply to spam email. In a hilarious TED Talk, comedian James Veitch details his emails with one spammer who contacted him about a business deal. Into the second week, James got the spammer to start replying in ridiculous code revolving around candy.


Digging = Donating

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Thought of the week

‘I’d rather be a lightning rod than a seismograph.’

— Tom WolfeThe Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Video of the week

Stems by Ainslee Henderson
Watch

Ainslee Henderson takes interesting “stuff” (wood, stick, wire, leaves, broken electronics, etc.) and turns it into stop-motion puppetry.

Do you hear ‘Yanny’ or ‘Laurel’ in this audio illusion?

marketing man person communication laurel

The web talked up a storm yesterday over an audio clip that purportedly pronounced one of two words depending on your ears: Yanny or Laurel.

Here’s the clip. Which do you hear?

While the majority of listeners report hearing “Yanny,” myself included (I listened on my laptop), hearing scientist Brad Story at the University of Arizona reveals that that waveform actually reveals “laurel.”

 So, with a low quality recording (as is the one in question) and a wide variety of devices on which people are listening, it is not surprising that some might hear something like ‘yanny.’

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Via Brad Story

Your auditory perception ultimately depends on your sound card and your ears, with higher or lower frequencies impacting the results. But your brain and previous experiences are also variables, as is how people see the cue in their timelines and fill in the rest with the imagination. Writes The Verge:

…the visual prompt that comes with the audio, Yanny or Laurel. That might help shape what people hear. Here’s another example of how prompts shape what we hear: the same word can sound like “bill,” “pail,” or “mayo” depending on what’s on-screen.

The sound debate reminds me of a quote I read recently in one of Paul Theroux’s travel books. He writes: “I’ve got a theory that what you hear influences – maybe even determines – what you see.”

Like the disputed blue and black or white and gold dress, the Yanny vs Laurel divide will rage on.

What’s the frequency, Kenneth?