Boston Globe article on how kids today are becoming less emphatic.
It’s been always believed that music is universal. It’s just not music theorists who believe this. We all agree intuitively that music has a set of principles that are transcendent. If notes are arranged in a certain sequence we perceive them as either harmonious or dissonant. Most of music theory is based on this. But scientists and psychologist are finding that this is not so “black and white”.
When Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar and his ensemble played at Madison Square Garden, New York, in 1971, the audience broke into rapturous applause at the first short pause. “Thank you,” said Shankar. “If you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more.”
When we listen to music from another culture, it’s easy to get it badly wrong. Even if our misunderstanding isn’t quite as embarrassing as the Shankar faux pas, we are likely to miss most of the nuances and allusions, think it all sounds the same or even dismiss it as a racket. Most 20th-century ethnomusicologists who compared the music of different cultures argued that this was because the way we make music and respond to it is learned, and therefore culture-specific.
Interesting post on how the Millenial generation consumes media and why self-referential shows like 30 Rock are their biggest demographic.
Aside from being a meta-narrative about TV shows, which is about as reflexive as you can get, 30 Rock features a few product placements that involve characters breaking from TV-world to directly address the audience in efforts to get them to buy a product. There are three examples in this clip, my favorite being the last, where Tina Fey says, “Can we have our money now?” following praise of Verizon Wireless. The audience is made aware that she is not only an actress on a fictional show, but that advertisers pay money for product placement, instead of writers organically putting a reference to a product in a show for comedic value.
This phenomenon, known as the “Quarterlife Crisis,” is as ubiquitous as it is intangible. Unrelenting indecision, isolation, confusion and anxiety about working, relationships and direction is reported by people in their mid-twenties to early thirties who are usually urban, middle class and well-educated; those who should be able to capitalize on their youth, unparalleled freedom and free-for-all individuation. They can’t make any decisions, because they don’t know what they want, and they don’t know what they want because they don’t know who they are, and they don’t know who they are because they’re allowed to be anyone they want.
At the bottom of the article there’s a quiz that asks questions such as:
7. You rent a movie. It’s
a) Helvetica, a documentary about a font.
b) The Last Kiss, where Zach Braff gets engaged and then fucks it up.
c) A triple bill of Fight Club, Withnail & I and Betty Blue.
Hoping this ends soon. (I’m 32) Looking forward for the midlife one.
NyTimes piece by Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soul Craft. Like in his book, the essay deals with how modern America has devalued the manual trades like plumbing, carpentry, and mechanics. He argues that since the switch to “knowledge work”, there’s a mistaken assumption that working with things and working with your hands is for “stupid” people, but it’s far more satisfying intellectually than people are aware of.
The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid. This is not my experience. I have a small business as a motorcycle mechanic in Richmond, Va., which I started in 2002. I work on Japanese and European motorcycles, mostly older bikes with some “vintage” cachet that makes people willing to spend money on them. I have found the satisfactions of the work to be very much bound up with the intellectual challenges it presents. And yet my decision to go into this line of work is a choice that seems to perplex many people.
Be sure to also check out the excellent book review.
Really funny and interesting article about how the minds of programmers work. The more clear and rational you are the better you can communicate. That’s true, up to a point. Some programmers take this to heart. To do their work effectively they have to communicate clearly, sequentially, and logical. But with humans you have to do the complete opposite.
The golden rule of programming is D.R.Y. — don’t repeat yourself. This is the heart of effective programming. But this is the opposite of effective communication.
Let me say that again:
The golden rule of programming, DRY, is the opposite of effective communication.
Say everything once and only once — go ahead — then be amazed as everyone misses your point!
Humans are not machines. Memories made of this gooey, spongy stuff called a brain are nothing like memories made of silicon.
With Humans, nothing sinks in the first time. And furthermore, you may be surprised to hear that NOTHING sinks in the first time.
Newsweek’s International chief editor Fareed Zakaria on the Recession. His take?:
The global financial system has been crashing more frequently over the past 30 years than in any comparable period in history. On the face of it, this suggests that we’re screwing up, when in fact what is happening is more complex. The problems that have developed over the past decades are not simply the products of failures. They could as easily be described as the products of success.
A tale of a management consultant’s disappointment with management theory and his decision to study philosophy instead. Matthew Stewart, the writer of the Atlantic article, goes through the management literature, from Taylorism to “information based organizations” and exposes what they truly are:
Each new fad calls attention to one virtue or another—first it’s efficiency, then quality, next it’s customer satisfaction, then supplier satisfaction, then self-satisfaction, and finally, at some point, it’s efficiency all over again. If it’s reminiscent of the kind of toothless wisdom offered in self-help literature, that’s because management theory is mostly a subgenre of self-help. Which isn’t to say it’s completely useless. But just as most people are able to lead fulfilling lives without consulting Deepak Chopra, most managers can probably spare themselves an education in management theory.
The “science” of management is pretty much smoke an mirrors. Don’t know why there’s so much to look into when it all boils down to people that control your paycheck and have the power to fire you.
Kevin Kelly has written another amazing tickling-brain post about the scary side of technological progress. The title is more an attempt to catch eyeballs. He states twice in the essay that, off course, he doesn’t think that what the Unabomber did was right. But he does think that Ted Kaczynski was on to something with his theories of how “the machine” is going to enslave humanity.
Ted Kaczynski, the convicted bomber who blew up dozens of technophilic professionals, was right about one thing: technology has its own agenda. The technium is not, as most people think, a series of individual artifacts and gadgets for sale. Rather, Kaczynski, speaking as the Unabomber, argued that technology is a dynamic holistic system. It is not mere hardware; rather it is more akin to an organism. It is not inert, nor passive; rather the technium seeks and grabs resources for its own expansion. It is not merely the sum of human action, but in fact it transcends human actions and desires. I think Kaczynski was right about these claims. In his own words the Unabomber says: “The system does not and cannot exist to satisfy human needs. Instead, it is human behavior that has to be modified to fit the needs of the system. This has nothing to do with the political or social ideology that may pretend to guide the technological system. It is the fault of technology, because the system is guided not by ideology but by technical necessity.”
It’s longish, but if you have been aroused by the philosophical implications woven in the Matrix, Fight Club, and the Amish, you’ll love it.
The first thing that must be said about Outliers: The Story of Success is that it isn’t an end all theory book about success. People expect that because his first two books were paradigm shift theory books. In The Tipping Point you get the “social trends and ideas spread like viruses” theory and in Blink you get “street smarts is as powerful and as important as books smarts” theory. If you’re looking for new insights that you can use for selling products or to feel good about your intuition, you won’t find it in this book.
What Outliers is about is what everybody knows instinctively, but only understands at a surface level. People that succeed, specially the people that we consider who have had extraordinary success like Bill Gates or The Beatles, don’t do it all alone. We know this, but we are more fascinated with the “rags to riches” story and the “self made man” success story.
Gladwell tells you about the other story. The not so fascinating story of how people succeed.
Where you were born matters. When you were born matters. How your parents raised you matters. The culture and environment you were raised and exposed to matters. The education that you get matters. What economic class you’re part of matters.
Again, we all know these things, but we don’t like to talk about them. We don’t want to hear it. Western culture, specially America, is an individualist culture. We don’t like the idea that some things our out of our control. We believe our “destiny” is up to us.
Some reactions have said the Outliers downplays talent. That being smart doesn’t matter, but that’s not the case at all. It’s actually the other way around: the idea that talent and discipline is enough to succeed is what’s been overplayed. The chapter of the 10,000 hour rule, the time that has been proven it takes for people to reach expertise, can’t be enough proof that practicing and showing up is very important. But not many people have had the time to put in those hours, and even less that get a head start to have those hours by the time they’re in their 20’s.
Bill Gates is used as an example of how particular circumstances, you can call it luck, played a big role in his success. He was computer programming when he was in 8th grade, in 1968. I don’t think there were many people, much less kids, who had access to a computer in 1968. Talk about a head start.
The two chapters called “The Trouble with Geniuses” is further proof that smarts and “showing up” matters, but, you guessed it, only to a certain point. There’s literally a study that Gladwell writes about IQ’s:
The relationship between success and IQ works only to a certain point. Once someone has reached an IQ of somewhere around 120, having additional IQ points doesn’t seem to translate into any measurable real-world advantage.
Gladwell is not saying that there is little you can do to be successful and that is out of your control. What he’s saying is that there’s only so much you can do. There’s a limit to how much you can control. There are other forces at play when your climbing the ladder of success and that’s what Gladwell is putting a magnifying glass on.
The first part of the book tells you about successes, but the second part seems to deal more about failures and how our “cultural legacy” plays a big role determining if we fail or not. In the case of Colombian pilots and the Appalachian “culture of honor”, their cultural legacy has put them in a disadvantageous position. In the case of the Asians and their rice paddy culture legacy, it has given them a big advantage. Nothing but good things can happen to a culture that has strong work ethics.
The book is a great read. Malcolm Gladwell manages to make the not so fascinating story of success into something truly fascinating. If there’s a conclusion to the book it would be this: being extraordinarily successful has to do a lot with the advantages and opportunities given to us and it’s only when we understand our disadvantages, when we can truly overcome them.
For those who don’t know who the hell this Gladwell guy is, he’s the author of seminal books like The Tipping Point and Blink. He used to write for the Washington Post and is currently writing for the New Yorker. I did a review of blink some time ago. Suffice to say, he’s considered a thought leader, specially by business and marketing people.
For those who do know, think they know, or are familiar with Malcolm Gladwell, I feel the need to remind them that he is not a scientist, nor a sociologist. He’s just a journalist that thinks about things that not many people think about, does the research, and writes about them in a way that lowbrow citizens like myself can understand.
Not surprisingly, I ordered Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers: The Story of Sucess, last Monday. So I’m waiting. I’ve been reading the promo interviews. I particularly liked and recommend the New York Magazine interview. I have to admit that he didn’t look too good in the Colbert Report interview.
But I’m going to stop reading anything about the man until I read Outliers, specially the negative reviews. I almost read completely the NyTimes Book review, but I’m saving it for later.
Which brings me to what’s bugging me about the recent reactions. See here and here. He always had critics, but all of sudden, it seems, everyone is smarter than Gladwell. Everyone now can handle “true” science, and read books written by real anthropologist and sociologists. It’s a little silly. Kind of like hipsters complaining that the bands music is too commercial and their first one was better.
Writer Clive Thompson writes in NyTimes a sociology and psychology CliffsNotes on theories like “ambient awareness”, the “Dumbar number”, and “parasocial relationships” to try to understand the whole social networking “microblogging” phenomenon and focuses most of the time on web trends like Facebook’s Newsfeed and Twitter. I don’t agree completely with the idea it’s trying to sell that ephemeral relationships and exchanges mean more than they actually do, but I do agree that not every relationship has to be intimate to be meaningful or to have some value.
We have discouraged daydreaming because we have switched to valuing more the idea of focus. “Letting your mind wander is not productive” you read and hear. It is true that when you’re focused, your chances of resolving problems increases, but daydreaming leads to more problem-solving breakthroughs that people may be are aware of. It warns though, that not every daydreamer is a creative genius:
“The point is that it’s not enough to just daydream,” Schooler says. “Letting your mind drift off is the easy part. The hard part is maintaining enough awareness so that even when you start to daydream you can interrupt yourself and notice a creative insight.”