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Current Topic: Technology

Media Cloud
Topic: Technology 7:36 am EDT, Mar 19, 2009

Media Cloud is a system that lets you see the flow of the media. The Internet is fundamentally altering the way that news is produced and distributed, but there are few comprehensive approaches to understanding the nature of these changes. Media Cloud automatically builds an archive of news stories and blog posts from the web, applies language processing, and gives you ways to analyze and visualize the data. The system is still in early development, but we invite you to explore our current data and suggest research ideas. This is an open-source project, and we will be releasing all of the code soon.

Clay Shirky:

If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?

The answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work.

Ted Nelson:

The trick is to make people think that a certain paradigm is inevitable, and they had better give in.

Ira Glass:

Not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap.

Media Cloud

Old Growth And The Future
Topic: Technology 8:06 am EDT, Mar 16, 2009

Steven Johnson:

We need to be reminded of what life was like before the web.

Instead of starting with the future, I propose that we look to the past.

In the long run, we’re going to look back at many facets of old media and realize that we were living in a desert disguised as a rain forest.

Decius, in a prescient post from 2004:

Ever wanted to know what life was like in the 30s? You will.


I thought I was unlucky graduating into the tech bust. I had no idea.

Richard Preston:

The tallest redwoods were regarded as inaccessible towers, shrouded in foliage and almost impossible to climb, since the lowest branches on a redwood can be twenty-five stories above the ground. From the moment he entered redwood space, Steve Sillett began to see things that no one had imagined. The general opinion among biologists at the time -- this was just eight years ago -- was that the redwood canopy was a so-called "redwood desert" that contained not much more than the branches of redwood trees.

Instead, Sillett discovered a lost world above Northern California.

Old Growth And The Future

Thinking the Unthinkable
Topic: Technology 8:06 am EDT, Mar 16, 2009

Clay Shirky:

When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse.

If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?

The answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work.

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place.

Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments.


I think things are going to get very bad.

From the archive, a pointer to other recent Shirky:

The job of the next decade is mostly going to be taking the raw revolutionary capability that's now apparent and really seeing what we can do with it.

Thinking the Unthinkable

Informing Ourselves To Death
Topic: Technology 7:47 am EDT, Mar 12, 2009

Neil Postman (with others interspersed):

What a technology undoes is a subject that computer experts apparently know very little about.

With one exception -- namely, Joseph Weizenbaum -- I have never heard anyone speak seriously and comprehensively about the disadvantages of computer technology, which strikes me as odd, and makes me wonder if the profession is hiding something important.

In a world populated by people who believe that through more and more information, paradise is attainable, the computer scientist is king. But I maintain that all of this is a monumental and dangerous waste of human talent and energy.

It’s hard to get people to do something bad all in one big jump, but if you can cut it up into small enough pieces, you can get people to do almost anything.

In the Middle Ages people believed in the authority of their religion, no matter what. Today, we believe in the authority of our science, no matter what.

As states recede and the new mediaevalism advances, the outside world is destined to move increasingly beyond the control -- and even the understanding -- of the new Rome.

In a world without spiritual or intellectual order, nothing is unbelievable; nothing is predictable, and therefore, nothing comes as a particular surprise.

By exposing people to an endless stream of advertising, television taught them to take nothing at face value, to read everything ironically.

The computer is, in a sense, a magnificent toy that distracts us from facing what we most needed to confront -- spiritual emptiness, knowledge of ourselves, usable conceptions of the past and future. Does one blame the computer for this? Of course not. It is, after all, only a machine.

Hopeless emptiness. Now you've said it. Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.

Informing Ourselves To Death

The Future, It Will Be So Easy
Topic: Technology 7:40 am EST, Mar  5, 2009

Robin Sloan:

Is our high-tech future really just an asymptotic approach to zero effort? Is it only about making things easier than they already are?

I can’t decide if that’s utopian or dystopian.

John Lanchester, from a recent issue of LRB:

If I had to name one high-cultural notion that had died in my adult lifetime, it would be the idea that difficulty is artistically desirable.

From the recent archive:

For many of us -- not least adolescents -- reality is now largely a virtual experience.

And from five years back:

Do you understand the difference between "Is it worth buying?" and "Can it be sold?"

The Future, It Will Be So Easy

Readability - An Arc90 Lab Experiment
Topic: Technology 7:40 am EST, Mar  5, 2009

Readability is a simple tool that makes reading on the Web more enjoyable by removing the clutter around what you're reading.

This is handy, although it fails to address the most troubling forms of clutter:

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

Readability - An Arc90 Lab Experiment

F.lux: software to make your life better
Topic: Technology 7:33 am EST, Feb 26, 2009

Ever notice how people texting at night have that eerie blue glow?

Or wake up ready to write down the Next Great Idea, and get blinded by your computer screen?

During the day, computer screens look good—they're designed to look like the sun. But, at 9PM, 10PM, or 3AM, you probably shouldn't be looking at the sun.

F.lux fixes this: it makes the color of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.

It's even possible that you're staying up too late because of your computer. You could use f.lux because it makes you sleep better, or you could just use it just because it makes your computer look better.

From the archive:

What's happening during sleep is that you open the aperture of memory and are able to see this bigger picture.

Jenny Diski:

Inexpert though I am in all other fields, I am a connoisseur of sleep.

Later, you can remember or feel, but the only actual experience of sleep is not-knowing. And not knowing thrills me – retrospectively or in anticipation, of course. That one has the capacity to be not here while being nowhere else. To be in the grip of unconsciousness, and consciously to lose consciousness to that grip.

F.lux: software to make your life better

Topic: Technology 7:33 am EST, Feb 26, 2009

We wanted a way to discover relevant and interesting items from the people we follow on Twitter. Most of the time something interesting is a link shared by a friend or colleague. So we built MicroPlaza to deliver us the filtered links from our Twitter timelines. It's our discovery engine, our personal newswire and just so god damn addictive!

Alfred North Whitehead:

It is more important that a proposition be interesting than that it be true.


Printed Words, Computers, and Democratic Societies
Topic: Technology 8:04 am EST, Feb 24, 2009

From 1983, Irving Louis Horowitz:

The relationship between political democracy and the new technology is by no means either uniform or mechanistic. In rapidly developing areas, nationalism may conflict with a wide use of a technology that has foreign or colonial origins. Antidemocratic constraints come masked in hostility to foreign ideas, influences, artifacts, and scientific systems. The intense desire for national autonomy not infrequently spills over into tightly knit controls over the new information technology. [...] Controls on information flow can be justified on the basis of national security, privacy, economics, or nationalism. The restrictions, however, are often a two-edged sword: they may protect the country in one way and injure it in another." In other words, the need for socioeconomic development involves maximum participation in the international exchange of information and ideas, even as the need to protect national interests may seek elites to limit such maximal use.

Printed Words, Computers, and Democratic Societies

The Unabomber Was Right
Topic: Technology 1:02 pm EST, Feb 21, 2009

Kevin Kelly:

There is a cost to run this machine, a cost we are only beginning to reckon with, but so far the gains from this ever enlarging technium outweigh the alternative of no machine at all.

Samantha Power:

There are great benefits to connectedness, but we haven't wrapped our minds around the costs.

Louis Menand:

Television was the Cold War intellectuals’ nightmare, a machine for bringing kitsch and commercialism directly into the home. But by exposing people to an endless stream of advertising, television taught them to take nothing at face value, to read everything ironically. We read the horror comics today and smile complacently at the sheer over-the-top campiness of the effects. In fact, that is the only way we can read them. We have lost our innocence.

The Unabomber Was Right

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