Posts Tagged ‘technology’
Last week at McNally Jackson, an independent bookstore based in the heart of SoHo, Austin Kleon, artist and, most recently, the author of Steal Like an Artist, brought together three fascinating minds on the internet today. Joining him in conversation about creativity and curation were Maria Popova of the website Brainpickings, Maris Kreizman of the mashup Tumblr Slaughterhouse 90210, and cultural critic Maud Newton.
One of Austin’s ideas that I find most interesting is “creative lineage,” those who influence your work, whose fingerprints can be seen in your creations. For Maud Newton, Muriel Spark is woefully underrated; Maris raved about fiction writer Lorrie Moore and recommended Self Help and Anagrams; Maria named Susan Sontag along with Winnie the Pooh and The Little Prince; Austin, a fan of Midwesterners who include pictures with their writings, named Kurt Vonnegut and Lynda Barry.
Here is a profile I wrote and a Q&A I conducted with Austin early in April when his book first came out. It originally ran on The Nervous Breakdown. You can also read my riff on Austin’s analog vs. digital approach to creating, posted in March on this site.
Below are links to all the various places you can find Austin and the panel participants on the internet, along with more recommendations mentioned throughout the discussion.
“It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to” –Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist
In 2005 Austin Kleon experienced a bad case of writer’s block. Right out of college, after having studied creative writing, he was struggling to write a short story. To break out of the rut he took a Sharpie to nearby newspapers and started crossing out sentences, leaving only a few words and large swaths of black ink in his wake. Unknowingly, he created something he calls Newspaper Blackout Poems.
But as he said on the phone one Saturday morning before embarking on a major US tour to support his latest book, Steal Like an Artist — the title a riff on a popular saying in the creative world often misattributed to Picasso — “nothing comes from nowhere.” It was soon after creating these blackout poems that Kleon traced the style’s origins back 250 years to a former next-door neighbor of Benjamin Franklin’s. More recently, William Burroughs had done something similar with his cut-up technique.
Far from disappointed by his findings, Austin developed a philosophy, one that he celebrates in the book. “All creative work builds on what came before,” he continued. Whether it’s our subconscious at play or a dedicated effort, we all have influences whose work guides our own. Austin encourages us to embrace and cultivate them rather than see our mashup style as fraudulent.
“Just as you have a familial genealogy, you also have a genealogy of ideas. You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see.”
Although his “family tree” is always changing, Austin named four influences who have stuck with him over time. Lynda Barry, his favorite cartoonist, showed Austin he could make a career out of pairing words and pictures. He believes her book What It Is should be required reading for high school students. Austin’s work is highly visual, the book features drawings throughout, so it was no surprise to hear him mention two other artists: Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame and Saul Steinberg, an illustrator best known for his work with The New Yorker. Acclaimed fiction writer George Saunders also made the list.
Although the influences he mentions appear cohesive, leading one to assume his work has a singular foundation, Austin says there’s no harm in variation. “Don’t worry about unity from piece to piece — what unifies all of your work is the fact that you made it,” he said.
The beauty of Steal Like an Artist is that it’s accessible, something that was important to Austin. As one can surmise from the subtitle, 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, a tagline that fits neatly into today’s culture of pared down how-tos, there’s a noticeable lack of technical jargon. Instead, Austin filled its pages with thought-provoking aphorisms and bite-sized insights. Structured around these ten simple rules, Steal Like an Artist offers a list that will most certainly transform the way you think about your work: use your hands; do good work and share it with people; be nice (the world is a small town); and be boring (it’s the only way to get work done) — to name a few.
Unlike many big thought books, Steal Like an Artist doesn’t leave you stranded: putting ideas in your head without a practical plan for going forward. In the last few pages Austin offers tips on how to harness creative energy: take a walk, get yourself a calendar, start a blog, and take a nap. As an avid reader and someone who believe books hold many answers, he includes a reading list of other books that might help you along the artistic path.
Ultimately, Steal Like an Artist is an inspiring conversation, one worth returning to again and again as your creative process evolves over time.
Here are a few bonus questions I’d asked Austin after our phone call. Check out what he has to say about procrastination, serendipity, and Carl Jung.
You talk about finding one’s voice. I’m curious to know how you found yours — or if you think the search ever ends.
Voice always confused the hell out of me in school. I really had no idea what professors were talking about when they said “find your voice.” I still don’t have a handle on it real well, honestly. The closest I’ve been to understanding is through something Billy Collins said: you find your poetic voice by emulating about 6-8 different poets, and once they fit together, so you can’t tell what comes from who, you’ve discovered your voice. I don’t think the search ends, though — at least I hope not. To have one voice forever sounds boring to me.
Do you feel procrastination is an integral part to the creative process?
Oh yeah. Basically, I always have 3-4 projects I’m working on and when I get sick of one I bounce over to the other. At some point I’ll become obsessed with one and run on that energy until it’s dead, then I switch again.
As much as we like being productive, We also need time to sit around and do nothing. To stare at the wall and think, or do something routine and mundane with your body so your mind is freed up.
How do you procrastinate productively?
I like going for walks and doing the dishes — both get me ideas, but one makes me less fat and one gets the kitchen clean.
You say “Creative work is a kind of theater.” I love that. As an artist, how do you see your work — or creative work in general — as theater?
The stage is your workspace — your desk, or your studio, whatever. The costume is your smock, or your favorite sweatpants, or a funny hat you put on to think. The props are your tools — pens, welding torch, etc. — and the script is just plain old time set aside to work. You know, just like actors “get into character,” I think we can trick our minds into get into the zone, too.
You mentioned recently that you’ve been making more of an effort to step away from your computer — your chapter “Step Away from the Screen” is one of my favorites — and that you spend your time in the local university library looking through the stacks. What’s your take on serendipitous findings in the physical world versus the virtual/online world?
Yeah, you just can’t beat having books in a physical space. I call it the “serendipity of the stacks” — you go looking for a book with a certain Dewey Decimal number, and then your eye gets caught on another book’s spine, and pretty soon you’re reading that book instead of the one you went looking for.
The same thing can happen on the Internet, but it just doesn’t feel quite the same. Steven Johnson says, if you can’t find serendipity on the web, you’re not using it right.
I’d asked you about your favorite artist biography or memoir and you mentioned Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Did it change your life in some way?
I’m not sure it’s changed my life, but what I love about the book is how Jung is constantly on the edge between science and religion, rationality and mysticism, etc. it’s just a great story about one of our great minds coming into being.
Maria Popova: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr
Maris Kreizman: Tumblr, Twitter
Maud Newton: Website, Twitter, Tumblr, The Chimerist (A Tumblr about iPad reading, co-run with Laura Miller of Salon)
Perchance to Dream: an essay by Jonathan Franzen in Harper’s Magazine
Who is Mark Twain?: an animated conversation with John Lithgow at the New York Public Library
Artist Marc Johns on Pinterest
Maud Newton outlines her day at the Paris Review: Part I, Part II
Maria uses Evernote
Austin likes the show Justified, based on Elmore Leonard’s novels
In my neighborhood, coffee shops are overrun by people on laptops. Baristas put signs on tables pleading for courtesy, the places that have zero tolerance rules feel extreme, and the New York Times reports on us under the headline “Destination: Laptopistan”. For the freelancers, the appeal is free WiFi. For me, it’s the promise of a sanctuary from online life.
While meditating on this coffee shop life of mine, one free from Twitter “interactions,” time-sucking Internet memes, and the endless flow of information, I came across a quote from Lynda Barry, “In the digital age, don’t forget to use your digits!” A tidy aphorism with great timing.
When I was in college I had a zine. I created it mainly by hand. All I had was a word processor — the electric typewriter kind — scissors, and glue. It felt good to sit on my floor, listen to music, and create something physical. It’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve done anything like that. Now, with websites and blogs, there’s no reason to go through the hassle. Believe me, there’s a lot to be thankful for but we also lose something in this neat way of publishing.
In his book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, artist Austin Kleon, in the chapter ‘Step Away from the Screen,’ where the Lynda Barry quote can be found, explores the work habits of illustrator and cartoonist Tom Gauld: once the computer is involved “things are on an inevitable path to being finished. Whereas in my sketchbook the possibilities are endless.”
Anyone who’s sat down to a blank page, pen in hand, knows there’s a certain amount of freedom in it. When I stare at a clean, unlined sheet of paper I wonder what will happen. How will my thoughts manifest? In words? Pictures? Both? When I edit on paper, or when I work out an idea in longhand, all sorts of things creep in that are impossible to replicate onscreen — grammatical cues that only I understand, words circled and heavily retraced either for emphasis or while daydreaming, and blatant disregard for margins and linear composition.
It’s easy to overlook the limitations humans face when drawing a straight line. Now that much of our work, often from start to finish, is done on computer, where perfection is possible, we demand exactness. “The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in us,” Austin says. “We start editing ideas before we have them.” While I don’t have the scientific background to support it, I’m the type of person who likes to think there’s some neurological significance to these dueling processes. I’m not saying one is better than the other, only that both need our attention.
My weekend mornings are spent on the computer, alternating between writing and allowing whatever shiny, virtual object of the moment to pull me away. After the third hour of disjointed creative focus I pack up my books and head out the door. It would be easy to stay inside that sterile world, the hours dissolving into the ether with each distraction, but as online has become our default location, it’s more important than ever to consciously engage with something tangible. Austin suggestions two desks, one analog and one digital, but for those of us with limited space and deficient willpower, a coffee shop offers a unique space away from the online world. If it weren’t for coffee shops, I’d be just another casualty of the delete key. Austin’s book is a great reminder as to why we should never let that happen.
In her introduction to Geek Girls Unite: How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks, and Other Misfits are Taking Over the World, Leslie Simon defines a geek as “A person who is wildly passionate about an activity, interest, or scientific field and strives to be an expert in said avocation.” What distinguishes a geek from his or her close relatives—say, a nerd, a dork, or a dweeb—is that a geek “does not necessarily sacrifice social status to participate in area of expertise; instead, person will often seek out like-minded peers—in both the real and virtual worlds—in order to connect, bond, and celebrate mutual love for this area.”
With this sociability in mind, Leslie aims to unite geeky girls worldwide. She notes that geek guys have sucked up the air in the room—Seth Rogan, Mark Zuckerberg, and Michael Cera, to name a few—and that it’s time for women to claim some of the oxygen; but first, we must learn to recognize one another. This is where Geek Girls Unite, an amusing field guide to geekdom, lends a helping hand.
There are many types of geeks out there: there’s the comic book geek, the music geek, the movie geek, the comedy geek, the geek who enjoys the domestic arts, and those geeks who always have their nose in a book. Using pop-anthropology, Leslie profiles each of these types, highlighting where they can be found, their outward signifiers, and who their historical predecessors are.
Having written something of a manifesto, Leslie says, “Embrace your quirkiness!” and with Geek Girls Unite she makes it a little bit easier.
Leslie spoke with me about the impetus for the book, her research, finding geek mentors, and growing up geek.
What was the spark that led you to write Geek Girls Unite?
I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to remember what or who it was that sparked the idea for Geek Girls Unite and the only thing I got out of it was a big lump on my noggin. Odds are, I was probably standing in the middle of some weird L.A. party, feeling completely out of place and having horrible high-school flashbacks. Or maybe I watching 30 Rock, basking in the amazingness of Tina Fey and her Liz Lemon alter-ego while sucking back a glass of wine. Either way, I’m sure it was inspired by how I used to feel my quirks and idiosyncrasies held me back when, in fact, they probably helped propel me to where I am today.
You’d mentioned feeling ashamed of your geekiness growing up. I can totally relate. When I look back at what I did to fit in I cringe. How did you react to, or against, your inner-geek — and when did you finally accept that it was who you were and you weren’t going to change?
I still consider myself a work in progress but my geek evolution started happening when I was 18. Once I went away to college and realized that I could choose my friends, it was a whole different ball game. I wasn’t forced to socially cohabitate with people just because they lived in the same zip code; I could actually choose my comrades based on similar interests and outlooks. (What a concept!)
What would you tell your teen geek self if you ran into her today?
I would definitely tell her to loosen up and live a little… or a lot! In high school, I was so scared of life—scared of not doing well on a test, scared of my friends thinking I was lame, scared of getting in trouble for missing curfew, scared of disappointing my parents. I really didn’t understand the concept of unconditional love, whether it was coming from my friends, my family or myself. When you want so badly to be liked (and/or loved), it’s easy to loose focus on who you really are and what’s really important. I know that now… but it would’ve been nice to understand that a little sooner.
You can read the rest of the interview at The Nervous Breakdown
Anniversaries are great. I’m not talking about personal anniversaries like your wedding or the day you brought your dog home. I’m talking about public anniversaries like bicentennials, the Civil War, or the invention of peanut butter. A more cynical person would call them a marketing gimmick and honestly, sometimes they are, but they’re also a time to focus on an otherwise forgotten occasion. Oftentimes they introduce people to someone or something previously unknown.
Recently, the 100 year anniversary of Marshall Mcluhan’s birth brought this fascinating media-philosopher to my attention. Wikipedia bills Mcluhan’s work as “one of the cornerstones of the study of media theory”. The Marshall Mcluhan website describes his first book, Understanding Media (1964), as focusing on “the media effects that permeate society and culture.” The entry explains that “McLuhan’s starting point is always the individual, because he defines media as technological extensions of the body” — a forward notion at that time and one that is much-echoed today by our own forward-thinkers.
What struck me about Marshall Mcluhan was his poignancy delivered brilliantly in sharp aphorisms—his most famous being “the medium is the message” followed up by his coining of “the global village”. Being a sucker for aphorisms—and who isn’t?—I was sucked into the celebration. It’s a good thing public broadcasting shares my enthusiasm because over the past week or so there’s been an outpouring of favorable remembrances of the man. You can listen to a great To The Best of Our Knowledge episode devoted to him alone. Australian radio’s Big Ideas had a roundtable discussion with media-thinker Douglas Rushkoff and electronic musician DJ Spooky (the first 20 minutes or so is an intro by the mediator).
If you’re wondering why DJ Spooky was invited to speak about Mcluhan, you can check out his essay on his work and download a track he created using Marshall’s words.
What do you think of our mediums today? What do they say about the messages we receive?
What’s on the Shelf?
The Medium is the Message by Marshall Mcluhan
I always endorse reading primary sources—as opposed to books about a particular book—if the author is accessible. The publisher says The Medium is the Message remains Mcluhan’s most popular work and that it “is still one of the most insightful and provocative works ever to have been published on our modern culture.”
Marshall Mcluhan, You Know Nothing of My Work! by Douglas Coupland
Coupland’s biography of Mcluhan has seen some mixed reviews but appears to be a worthy place to start if you’re looking for some background. Here he is discussing the book with The Paris Review. While we’re talking about Douglas Coupland I’d like to endorse his 1991 novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, a book whose originality changed the way I viewed reading. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I owe my current voraciousness to Coupland and this book. While the book Generation X did not coin the term it did make it popular.
Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age by Douglas Rushkoff
The publisher says this of the book: “In this spirited, accessible poetics of new media, Rushkoff picks up where Marshall McLuhan left off, helping readers come to recognize programming as the new literacy of the digital age––and as a template through which to see beyond social conventions and power structures that have vexed us for centuries. This is a friendly little book with a big and actionable message.”
What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly
Kevin Kelly is a founding editor of WIRED magazine and is currently on staff as their Senior Maverick. Last year he published a sweeping history and forward thinking book on technology called What Technology Wants. Cory Doctorow on his site boingboing summed up the thesis as: “technology has its own internal logics and rhythms that are distinct from (and sometimes adverse to) the desires of the humans that create it. Technology creates itself, using humans to do its bidding, and our normal view of inventors creating technology is a kind of romantic fairy tale that ignores the fact that nearly every great invention is invented nearly simultaneously by many people at the same time, all over the world.”
I truly enjoy listening to Kevin discuss technology and suggest you check out a few of his talks available online. Here he is on the future of the digital media landscape (opens with sound). For more you can check out Kevin’s page on the TED Talks site where they have a few short videos and you can find a great interview with Kevin on To The Best of Our Knowledge. If you’re craving more here’s his talk at the New York Public Library last fall with fellow big thinker Steven Johnson. The discussion was moderated by Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich.
What’s on your shelf this week?
If you like grammar you probably have a favorite punctuation mark. Maybe you feel strongly about the use of the serial comma or exclamation points in email. Quite possibly you have an opinion on double spacing after periods. If any of these ring true, you’ll want to read the following articles. In case you missed them, here’s Ben Yagoda on where to put the period when using quotation marks, Farhad Manjoo on the origins of double-spacing and why you should never do it now, and Aimee Lee Ball’s fascinating cultural piece on the exclamation point—she even interviewed some of today’s top authors for their thoughts.
And, If you still haven’t gotten your fill, the Christian Science Monitor has a language column called Verbal Energy; Grammar Girl is a great reference site to keep handy for all your grammar questions and the Grammarphobia blog features fun language facts that are bound to keep you the life of the party.
What’s on the shelf?
Since listening to the Bookrageous podcast and now SF Signal‘s, both of which frequently comment on comics and graphic novels, I’m seeking out webcomics, comics published on the internet and are often free. I grew up with Archie Comics and then, in my early 20s, I found some great artists published by Oni Press but since then I haven’t stayed on top of the graphic novel industry.
While many of the top webcomics tend to focus on gaming culture, such as Ctrl+Alt+Del by Tim Buckley and Penny Arcade, written by Jerry Holkins and illustrated by Mike Krahulik, both wildly popular, there are a few for the non-gamers. The award-winning Girl Genius, by Kaja and Phil Foglio, is a steampunk adventure story with a female lead, Agatha Heterodyne. Diesel Sweeties by R Stevens is the story of a robot who dates real women and, despite my doubts, is surprisingly addictive. Over at The Rumpus, they take their comics seriously and have an impressive lineup of contributors which currently includes Tony Millionaire, All Over Coffee, Jon Adams, and more. While you’re at it, you should follow legendary Scott McCloud, one of the earliest promoters of webcomics. What’s your favorite? I’m looking for more.
Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
It’s hard not to notice that Robopocalypse is out now in stores. If you read major newspapers, scroll through popular websites, or peruse your local bookshop you’ve undoubtedly seen the haunting cover image—the close-up of a shiny, white plastic face with determined red eyes. Daniel H. Wilson, a man who holds a PhD in Robotics and who has written many humorous nonfiction books on robots now brings us the story of a world after a robot uprising. Boingboing sums it up as a “a kind of oral history, composed of vignettes that take the form of first person accounts, transcripts, technical documents. . .” and Steven Spielberg has a film version slated for release in 2013.
You can read a review at boingboing, check out an excerpt at io9 followed by nonfiction musings from the author, and listen to an interview with Daniel on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. If you still want more, Future Tense, a project in conjunction with Slate, even used the book’s buzz to jump into the larger issue of safety in a world that is increasing its use of technology.
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
I recently came across Angry Robot, a publisher specializing in “modern adult science fiction, fantasy and everything in between,” according to their site. A few of their books caught my eye at the bookstore last week, thanks to their really cool logo and cover designs, and I picked up Zoo City by South African writer Lauren Beukes. Zoo City is Beukes’ second book—Moxyland is her first—and can be summed up as an urban speculative fiction novel about a young woman, recently released from prison, now “animalled” (saddled with an animal due to a past illegal act), who is hired, under the radar, to solve a missing persons case. I’ve plowed through half of this book in a day, full review to come.
slaughter house five by kurt vonnegut wasn’t assigned to me in high school but if it had been, as with most books on the class reading list, i probably wouldnt have read it anyway. although i often prefer male authors to female, the hyper-masculine stories about war and hunting don’t appeal to me. i once heard hemingway described as a boy’s writer and that’s how i saw vonnegut, fairly or not.
it wasn’t until my early 20s that i deemed the widely-praised bestseller a cultural necessity. reluctantly, and only with a sense of duty, as opposed to pleasure, i hunkered down and slogged my way through it. 10 years later i couldnt summarize the plot or the name of main character; and i’ve since moved on without any interest in rereading, or picking up another book by the author.
that was, until i read an article mentioning player piano, vonnegut’s first novel. the description didnt fit my image of him, which now seems absurd after a quick online search to refresh my memory of slaughter house, but to my misinformed self i wasnt expecting a book that could stand side by side with the science fiction classics of philip k. dick, william gibson, and ray bradbury.
set in an unspecified future, in an upstate new york town of Ilium, a place not unlike others in this dystopic america, player piano is a story of the struggle between man and technology: a workforce increasingly made up of machines displacing and degrading human labor.
this classic theme seems more relevant today than it did back when vonnegut penned the speculative tale nearly 60 years ago. in the midst of our technological revolution, fear of instability and cultural decline is working itself out in our news media. at the time of my reading, time magazine’s cover featured, in large bold type, the year 2045 over a photo of a hairless person with a cord plugged into the back of its head. it was, in part, a profile on ray kurzweil, possibly one of the more outspoken and recognizable touters of the singularity movement: a belief that in the near future people will create machines smart enough to create smarter versions of themselves. when this happens, human civilization as we know it will come to an end. in the same issue there was an article about social media and the rewiring of children’s brains; that same week the cover story of the atlantic was ‘artificial intelligence?: why machines will never beat the human mind,’ by brian christian, a journalist who took part in an annual turing test, an event where humans determine if a new crop of computers can act “more human” than an actual person. and, just in case we hadnt yet had our fill, leading up to the IBM supercomputer, Watson’s, appearance on the quiz show Jeopardy!, the airwaves, newspapers, and websites were teaming with commentary and interviews. one on NPR warningly called the dark side of watson, featured computer programmer martin ford who wrote a three-part series in the atlantic on artifical intelligence. the story presumes that “just as many jobs are being shipped overseas to cheaper workforces because they can be done by computer, Ford predicts the next step in that process: those same jobs will be done by artificial intelligence.” ford doesn’t have a specific date in mind but concludes that “one thing we can say though is that things are moving at a faster and faster rate. Technology — and in particular, information technology — is accelerating … and it’s going to have a very big impact at some point, a disruptive impact, I think.”
on the coattails of these provocative stories was the new yorker’s adam gopnik with an essay on the myriad of new books about technology and the transformation of our society. in the article he coins the terms “Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers, and the Ever-Wasers.” according to gopnik who has now increased our lexicon by three:
The Never-Betters believe that we’re on the brink of a new utopia, where information will be free and democratic, news will be made from the bottom up, love will reign, and cookies will bake themselves. The Better-Nevers think that we would have been better off if the whole thing had never happened, that the world that is coming to an end is superior to the one that is taking its place, and that, at a minimum, books and magazines create private space for minds in ways that twenty-second bursts of information don’t. The Ever-Wasers insist that at any moment in modernity something like this is going on, and that a new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others—that something like this is going on is exactly what makes it a modern moment.
in the dystopian future of player piano all three perspectives are represented. separated from those whose lives have been destroyed by a river and armed guards, the elites hold that everything is the the way it should be; the former workforce, its numbers decimated by machines, live in abject poverty and with an overwhelming sense of alienation, see the advancement of technology only for its catastrophic consequences; and the conflicted protagonist, paul proteus, a man born into privilege and kept there by name and blood, senses something fundamentally wrong but, unlike the dejected anarchists with nothing to lose, doesnt quite know what to do about it.
neither orthodox nor overwhelming in its approach, player piano, much like other works of classic scifi, infuses a religious element into the story. early on is a thinly-veiled buddha analogy. like siddhartha, who would later become more commonly known as buddha, paul crosses the river from his cushy engineering life to a dive bar in Reeks and Wrecks territory—the name given to the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps, the organization of manual labor—where he hopes to keep his identity under wraps so as not to invoke the wrath of forgotten victims. having been shielded from the horrors of his time, like the BC-era spiritual leader, when paul goes out into the world, beyond the well-guarded gates, he has an eye-opening experience. now seeing the destruction done to his fellow man he can’t go back to the way things were, even with his upwardly mobile wife planning every action and reaction for him. delivered with growing indifference, paul’s gestures come across empty, dispassionate. further fowling up the goodwill of his superiors is his continuing friendship with former engineer ed finnerty, believed to be involved with a group of saboteurs.
paul has one hesitant foot in the Reeks and Wrecks and the other, uncomfortably, in the life he’s always known. ultimately, he needs to make a choice, or have one made for him, because in this divided society the two cannot coexist—and therein lies the problem.
player piano is based on the age-old theme of haves vs. have-nots. the underdog, the irrelevant workers left without occupation, dignity, and purpose by a country that no longer deems them necessary, cuts to the core of our anxiety. vonnegut’s world is thoroughly enjoyable with its comical moments and strong characters but perhaps becoming a bit too familiar.
adam gopnik :: the information
adam gopnik discussing his article on WNYC’s brian lehrer show
the dark side of watson on NPR’s all things considered
brian christian’s mind vs. machine in the atlantic
wired for distraction? in time magazine
2045: the year man becomes immortal, a profile on ray kurzweil and the singularity movement, in time
player piano at dial press
vonnegut’s official website
- cognition (n.): 1. the mental process of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment. 2. that which comes to be known, as through perception, reasoning, or intuition; knowledge.
- cognitivism [psychology] (n.): 1. basic - a theoretical approach to understanding the mind, which argues that mental function can be understood by quantitative, positivist, and scientific methods, and that such functions can be described as information processing models. 2. little harder – the view that cognition consists in the operations of mental items which are symbols for the real entities. it is usually assumed that these mental symbols are identifiable with neural states. these states, and the neural processes, can be understood by analogy with computers.
best known for his work in economics, tyler cowen of marginalrevolution.com came out with a book in 2009 about technology, which in paperback is called the age of the infovore: succeeding in the information economy.
tyler’s main argument is that autism will show us where our world is headed, and how we can get the most out of it.
Whatever the tragedies of autism may be, we can learn a great deal from autistics and from their cognitive strengths.
before we get into the cognitive strengths of autistics—a group of people often seen as socially and mentally deficient—let’s look at why we might require some life lessons. we’ve heard it all before: our society, in the grip of rapid technological change, is simultaneously in the midst of a cultural and intellectual death-spiral. Our gadgets are giving us all ADD by way of rewiring our neurons—or, more colloquially: we’re unknowingly destroying our brains and bringing our species down with it. personally, i’m optimistic about technological advancement; with that bias in mind, tyler’s book is a welcome read. yes, he thinks our culture is changing, and yes, he’s say it’s happening quickly, as he makes clear in economic terms right here:
Fundamentally the relationship between human minds and human cultures is changing. Today culture is not just about buying and selling straightforward commodities such as books or compact discs. Each day more fun, more enjoyment, more social connection, and indeed more contemplation is produced on Facebook, blogs, You-Tube, iPods, eBay, Flickr, Wikipedia, and Amazon.com—among other services—than had been imagined twenty or even ten years ago.. . .More and more, “production”. . .has become interior to the human mind rather than set on a factory floor.
but he’s not worried; how can you be when your species, in the course of a generation, moved a factory inside its head? but the reason why tyler’s bullish is because he believes humans can harness, organize, and categorize their gadgetry and excel with technology by their sides. for example, self-education increases as information becomes more readily available. think back 20 years when you needed an encyclopedia to look up statistics of far-flung countries, and even then the information was bound to be outdated. now we have the CIA world factbook along with each country’s official homepage; we have iTunes university, hard-to-find books ready for purchase at the click of a button, and an endless stream of educational videos available on various sites, all found by entering a keyword into a search box. but what do we do with this information? how do keep from being overwhelmed? and probably most importantly, how do we not waste our time?
this last question brings to mind something that clay shirky, a thinker on social and economic effects of internet technologies, said: it’s not information overload. it’s filter failure. what we need to learn is how to filter.
it’s safe to say that cowen agrees. regarding organization in our time of technological progress, he says:
There is quite literally a new plane for organizing human thoughts and feelings and we are jumping on these opportunities at an unprecedented pace.
and this is where he loops in autism’s cognitive strengths. he goes on to name two:
First, many autistics are very good at perceiving, processing, and ordering information, especially in specialized or preferred areas of interest. . .Second, autistics have a bias toward “local” processing” or “local perception.” For instance an autistic person may be more likely to notice a particular sound of a particular piece of a pattern, or an autistic may have an especially good knowledge of detail or fact. . .
my takeaway from the first part of the age of the infovore, which i must admit is really just a reinforcement of my own leanings, is that our technology can either distract and overwhelm us: stealing our time and productivity, or, it can move us along on the path of progress: becoming a powerful extension of our bodies and minds. there will be people on opposite ends of the spectrum with the majority spanning the places in between—also something common in autism. but unlike autistics, we have a fair amount of control where we end up.
[inspiration] :: the age of the infovore by tyler cowen // fora.tv: christopher dye :: are humans still evolving? (opens with sound) // radio open source: kevin kelly on ‘the technium’ // fora.tv: nicholas carr :: is google making us stupid? // william powers, author of hamlet’s blackberry, on taking control of our technology //
[soundtrack] :: daft punk / technologic