Intellectually Curious? A Potpourri of Fascinating Articles for the End of the Year

End of year. alanpeacock2
The Eavesdropper: Saving the lost art of conversation.
 Sherry Turkle, MIT’s digital psychologist, (an academic interested in the relationship between humans and machines) has an enlightening interview with Atlantic’s Megan Garber. Conversation is messy, full of pauses, interruptions and topic changes, she admits. So Turkle and Garber take us on a tour through a local Apple stores, noting that everybody’s talking, but nobody’s talking about anything except what’s on the machines—to prove her point. My protégé recently responded quite affirmatively to my comment that techies are usually the poorest conversationalists in an organization, especially when compared with folk in, say. . . marketing. But I have no complaints. Their inadequacies brought in big consulting bucks. In her new book she’s going to “out” herself as a “partisan of conversation.” Why do you think that’s actually important? I can give you a pot full of reasons.

In a formal recant, Ross Douthat gives us Confessions of a Columnist. I suspect he’s taking a tip from David Brooks’ paean for humility. Douthat intrigues us with several important big mistakes which he made in 2013. He told us, in effect, that he’s a poor predictor, does his share of underestimating and has that pundit ability to make too much of a little thing. “One of the bad habits of pundits is to perpetually look for Grand Turning Points, moments after which Nothing is the Same. . . and impose order on the messiness of political reality.” But once again, he screwed up. Fascinating that a pundit would admit to the error of his ways. Of course, he might not have had anything else to write on during the vacation. Still. . . . 

US broadband still needs a kick in the ass, according to Ed Wyatt’s, US struggles to keep pace in delivering broadband service.  He tells us what some of us have observed, that in terms of internet speed and cost, ‘ours seems completely out of whack with what we see in the rest of the world.’ The comparisons between San Antonio, for example, and Riga, Latvia, are more than a bit enlightening. In Riga the average speed is about 42 megabits a second (versus San Antonio’s 16 megabits per second). But some in Riga have service between 100 and 500 megabits per second. I really would like that. Really. So what’s the future for me and yours?

Is Upworthy.com on your radar screen? Their blogger’s post gets to the stuff in, What actually makes things go viral will blow your mind. (Hint: it’s not headlines like this.) In November their website got 87 million visits for videos about racial profiling, gender bias, reproductive rights, and other issues. I deeply appreciate their focus on quality and content. And they have three simple gauges for their blogs. Has a slight Google sound, but defines their stuff even more concretely. Is the content substantive, engaging, and maybe even entertaining? If 1 million people saw it, would the world be a better place? And, does the content actually deliver on the promise of the headline. They understand the problem of “clickbait,” and pooh-pooh it. I suspect that the authors have some insight into what and how people read. High thinkability stuff for us bloggers.

Older stuff, but phenomenally illuminating: The humanities declining? Not according to the numbers, by Michael Berube.  Since they used Nate Silver, the guy who became famous for his polling data, I doubt that the numbers can be challenged. Silver concluded, for example, that ‘the number of new degrees in English is fairly similar to what it has been for most of the last 20 years as a share of the college-age population. Actually it’s a tad higher. Of course, as long as parents and students think there’s a direct line between college majors and your eventual work vocation, too much of this is ignored. Stupidity reigns when parents and students ignore the humanities. Ummmm. I should comment that some of the most wealthy, brilliant folk in business did their undergrad in majors like history, English and philosophy—and still do. You may also want to read Berube’s link to, We are creating Walmarts of higher education by Timothy Pratt. How’s that for a headline, but with substance following? Since I live in Minnesota and two of my kids live in Massachusetts, I’ve been regularly informed by one of my friends in the South, that the humanities there ain’t what they are in our more literate states like M and M.

Camille Paglia, in A Feminist Defense of Masculine Virtues is a throw-away for those who don’t mind a bit of intellectual rape. Paglia can get your attention, but she’s so inconsistent that tracking her is problematic. Still, this feminist, has come to the support of boys and men. Nothing wrong with that, especially since I believe she’s got it about right. She really wants to abandon the “nanny state” which may be why she got the Wall Street Journal to publish her stuff. Remember as you read, pundits typically overstate reality to get your attention.  

photo by flickr: alanpeacock2

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