Jaron Lanier said something interesting about optimism

A few years ago I read Jaron Lanier’s book “You are Not a Gadget,” and I felt like I was listening to someone with a rich understanding of technology take a fairly critical view of it – a position not as many people were arguing at the time. Lanier is fully entrenched in Silicon Valley and big-tech, but he is also a thoughtful voice who often questions the less scrupulous ways internet technology is “helping” us. When Google and Facebook let their profits take precedence over their ethics, Lanier counters with accessible arguments of why the ethics matter more. In a recent interview with Kara Swisher on the “Too Embarrassed to Ask” podcast, Jaron said something that jumped out at me for the way it subverted common thinking about criticism, and its relationship to optimism & pessimism. When criticism is poorly expressed, it’s just complaining, or being mean, or being …

Continue reading

Tom Wolfe Captured American Life from the Center of the Carnival and We’re All Better Because of It

The USA lost an icon today. Tom Wolfe wrote the pants off of every subject he touched, and he will be missed. But that’s what writing is for, right? He is gone, but his work remains. I devoured as much of his writing as I could when I was studying for my B.A. degree. What I got in return wasn’t just a lesson in style or syntax, but a portrait of American history that I wouldn’t have found anywhere else. From NASA to Nascar, Ken Kesey’s quest for the far-out and Charlotte Simmons’ prelude to #MeToo, Wolfe seemed to have a line on everything that happened in the half-century he spent writing. I hope that my generation can come up with a Wolfe of its own – someone who will thread the needle between all the cultural movements happening right now, and instead of illustrating only the divisions, find something …

Continue reading

Should You Read This Book? “The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures”

According to Seth Godin, there are two scarce elements in our economy: trust and attention. I’m going to try and help with that by offering my trustworthy opinion on whether you should give your attention to this book by Dan Roam. If the title of the book, “The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures“ doesn’t immediately pique your interest, it might not be for you. It’s pretty straightforward: this is a book about how to convey ideas with pictures. So why should you trust my opinion? Because I’m on the internet! …If that’s not enough, a few weeks ago I was on a podcast where I interviewed a startup in the data visualization industry, so turning ideas into pictures is fresh on my mind. In my free time, I’m a photographer and a writer, and I suppose I’ve read a handful of other books with pictures. (“Charlotte’s Web,” “Sin City,” …

Continue reading

#ShowYourWork

I read Austin Kleon’s book “Show Your Work!” last week. It presents an idea that seems pretty basic on the surface, but is actually pretty challenging: “You can’t find your voice without using it.” According to Kleon, creative people have to show what they’re doing for it to be meaningful. Showing the work is as important as doing it. I used to have a good habit of doing that with this blog. Until a few years ago, I was posting regularly, and it seemed like people other than my Mom were actually reading it. (Thanks for reading, Mom!) Things I wrote about here turned into the things I talked about with people out in the world. Then life caught up. I started grad school. I got engaged. We got a dog, moved, got married, bought a house, and moved again. Amidst all that, I also changed jobs – and in …

Continue reading

Magic and Loss

Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art by Virginia Heffernan My rating: 3 of 5 stars I decided to read this after hearing the author on the Recode Media podcast and reading some of her shorter pieces in the Times over the years. There’s a lot to think about in Magic & Loss – I enjoyed the lucid language and often insightful commentary. The homage to the death of the telephone was wonderful, and the quick take on ‘science’ writing in the mainstream media was funny – but there were also a share of flimsy moments (did she really just try to summarize a billion photographs on Flickr by talking about the style of two users?) I found myself occasionally waiting for more substantive technical discussion (maybe I’m conditioned to expect it in any writing about the internet) but I guess the ‘internet as art’ premise doesn’t leave room for …

Continue reading

Freedom, Concrete Island, & Richistan

The three books I’ve finished in the last few days initially seem disparate in theme, but if I dig, I might find a way to associate them and forge a coincidence in completing them around the same time. For some reason each of their unique stories caught my attention, after all. It’s a fun game to pick out three diversely categorized books and try to connect the dots between them, reading each at a completely different pace, thinking about them as various events unfold in my own life, and maybe looking for similarities I wouldn’t otherwise have been interested in. This fumbling investigation is the side effect of having no structured agenda when I decide which book to pick up on any afternoon. On the surface, the novel Freedom is a long and gossipy portrait of modern love and grief in post-9/11 America, and Concrete Island walks the line of …

Continue reading

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

It was the never-discarded trail of breadcrumbs left behind by my browsing on Amazon.com that led to Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” getting stuffed in a cardboard box and mailed to my apartment. With precision, Amazon remembers everything I’ve ever looked at, how long I looked at it for, and what I looked at next. It really wouldn’t benefit them to “tidy up” that history, nor would it anyone else who is enamored with the idea of “big data” and harvesting trends from massive collections of information. So it’s in this age of everything digital lasting forever, and giant mountains of digital ’stuff’ being heralded as the holy grail of information, that a book about throwing things away has become an international bestseller. Despite the celebrated promise of data hoarding, my past browsing led the magical website to believe that a book about cleaning (or ’tidying’ …

Continue reading

on ‘The End of Absence’

“I fear we are the last of the daydreamers. I fear our children will lose lack, lose absence, and never comprehend its quiet, immeasurable value.”  –  The End of Absence Many children this winter, especially in Boston, are having days off from school because of the weather. They’re being ‘absent.’ I used to love being ‘absent,’ on snow days. There was a peculiar isolation in it, a kind of detachment that’s almost impossible to reproduce now. This winter, those kids in Boston are having an entirely different ‘absence.’ They’re not absent in the way that I used to be absent. The End of Absence by Michael Harris is another book about the internet and how modern technology is changing the human experience. I keep reading books like this. Most of them have a pessimistic take on what it all means, and the fact that I spend many evenings reading stuff like this …

Continue reading

Creativity and Daily Rituals

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Mason Currey. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. Reading Daily Rituals, an atlas of anecdotes regarding the daily tics of well known intellectuals, has given me pause to think about my own idiosyncrasies. Am I repeating actions habitually without realizing it? Do I have better days when I follow a routine? Coincidentally many of the famously creative people and their quirks share a common thread. Historically writers, painters, architects and their ilk seem to have had a few oft-employed strategies for balancing their burdens. Walking and solitude were critical in the schedules of the great thinkers, who all seemed to champion their restorative and catalytic powers. Beethoven took his strolls after a ‘midday dinner,’ while Freud ‘marched at a terrific speed’ after his evening meal. At two o’clock in the afternoon, Dickens promptly left his desk for a vigorous three-hour walk, doing what he described as ‘searching for …

Continue reading

Cubicles are Bullshit

There is a place inside every American middle and high school that misbehaving students are sent for rehabilitation. It’s called ‘In-School Suspension,’ or I.S.S. The method of this punishment is that unruly kids are taken out of regular classrooms and placed in a quiet room with desks that have ‘privacy’ walls – the idea being that if they can’t see other students they won’t be provoked to interact with them and disrupt the teacher’s authority. An enforcer sits in the room, overseeing everyone to make sure they aren’t just sleeping. Actual school work is expected to be completed during this time. What no one tells these kids, as they sit in I.S.S., is that they are getting a lesson of much greater utility than they realize – they’re being taught how to sit in a cubicle, which very many of them will inevitably end up doing once they become adults. As far as interior design goes, the differences between sitting in I.S.S. and working in …

Continue reading