All posts in culture

On Obituaries

“Not all obituaries are created equal. As a genre of occasional writing, some are composed without intimate knowledge of the deceased or deep reflection about their contributions. But the best of the obituaries written about these and other towering thinkers command our attention, for they invite us to reckon once again (and ever anew) with the political work and social location of what the historian Christopher Lasch referred to as the “intellectual as a social type.” Some are just a paragraph long; others go on for pages. But at their finest, obituaries of intellectuals attempt to resituate these thinkers and their ideas in the historical conditions from which they came and to which they spoke. And they invite us to recall how we put them to work in our own intellectual biographies.”

“Over Our Dead Bodies” –Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen

Teenage Wasteland: Japanese Youth in Revolt, 1964

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See the slideshow at Life magazine.

Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

“I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read.”

Please read Neil Gaiman’s piece in the Guardian.

Josh Marshall: Flipboard is a Scam Against Publishers?

Josh Marshall on Talking Points Memo’s decision to pull out of Flipboard, Google Currents, etc.:

But say you find TPM on Flipboard, decide it’s great and add it to your viewing routine on Flipboard. Probably you just keep reading us on Flipboard. Clearly you like Flipboard or you wouldn’t be using it. So why would you start visiting TPM? You likely won’t. That may be great for you. It’s definitely great for Flipboard. But is it great for us? Not really. It boosts my ego, I guess. And more people may know about us. But where and how does that turn into our ability to convert that ‘audience’ into a revenue stream that allows us to create our product? I don’t think it does. Or it does in so in such a trivial and unquantifiable way as to be meaningless.

How does he know that users don’t connect the dots back to the site after using Flipboard to discover them? He’s basing a ton of his opinion here on that assumption. I know for my own experience, I love using tools like Flipboard, Feedly, etc. to discover new sites, and when I like them I add them to my reader, and I visit those sites and open those links and share the articles I like here and other places. Maybe the majority of users don’t convert in that same way. That said, I do understand his issue with the fuzzy logic around how things like reach and brand awareness are benefiting them when their goal is to find revenue streams to keep producing their work. I totally get that.

However, if you’re cutting off from your readers in an attempt to own every page view so your banner ads are more valuable (not saying that’s his plan, more so pointing out that the plan in general is a bit more traditional and focused on hard data like CTR and direct streams), you’re holding yourself back from real potential in terms of both revenue and reader growth. I don’t quite get it, despite understanding (and sympathizing with) large-scale digital news sites that are now struggling to manage million dollar solvency issues annually, much like newspapers scrambled to do years ago. It’s about a clear-cut cost-based analysis for Marshall, but I’m not sure he’s correct as he cuts off values that don’t ‘directly’ influence revenue.

How Richard Dawkins Coined the Word Meme

“Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain.”

Learn more over at Brain Pickings.

Kierkergaard & the Clown

A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that’s just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it’s a joke.

Either/Or, Part I.

Woody Allen “What I’ve Learned”

It’s just an accident that we happen to be on earth, enjoying our silly little moments, distracting ourselves as often as possible so we don’t have to really face up to the fact that, you know, we’re just temporary people with a very short time in a universe that will eventually be completely gone. And everything that you value, whether it’s Shakespeare, Beethoven, da Vinci, or whatever, will be gone. The earth will be gone. The sun will be gone. There’ll be nothing. The best you can do to get through life is distraction. Love works as a distraction. And work works as a distraction. You can distract yourself a billion different ways. But the key is to distract yourself.

More at Esquire

Funeral Homes Keep Typewriters Alive

In an era of apps, tablets and Google Glass, typewriters are still clacking along with the help of an unusual coalition of customers. Police departments, law firms and government agencies still punch out forms on the machines. Some municipalities use them for marriage and birth certificates. And Swintec executives found a way to save their business a decade ago with a new client: prisons.

-WSJ

Simone de Beauvior on Feminism

Via Open Culture:

Being a woman is not a natural fact. It’s the result of a certain history. There is no biological or psychological destiny that defines a woman as such…. Baby girls are manufactured to become women.

Video: DFW’s “This is Water”

Crazy Skyscrapers of the Future

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More at co.exist

Hostile, Ugly, Sexist

“Movies, and what women do in and to them, are better than the Academy seemed to realize. The same could be said about a lot of women in a lot of jobs. And women can’t forget it.” –Amy Davidson

LBJ’s Love Letters to Ladybird

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I love presidential history, and I love letters. I love having access to anyone’s correspondence, I suppose I’m a snoop in that regard. I don’t care who wrote it or to whom, I just relish that moment of intimacy that’s observable within the experience of reading someone else’s correspondence. I’d snoop through almost anyone’s email. Not for information or gossip, just to catch that glimpse of how a person writes to another when they think they’re alone. It’s completely fascinating. Read more…

Whitney Phillips on Trolls

Internet-Troll“I am certainly not of the opinion that there is and should only be ONE definition of the term. It should go without saying that language is flexible, and behavior even more so. But I will say that it is critical –if we hope our conversations to go anywhere– to acknowledge a basic difference between the definitions of trolling offered by those who self-identify as such and those who take it upon themselves to bestow the category onto others. Currently, that’s one aspect of the conversation that tends to be overlooked, I think because everyone assumes everyone else’s words mean the same things as their own words, and then proceed to rail against any number of straw men. Or straw trolls, as the case may be.”

Whether we’re talking about trolls or any other genre or people identifier, Whitney’s comments here seem more than appropriate, they feel important. Everyone who talks about things that aren’t them should always be considering these two things: 1) language is flexible 2) what something means to you isn’t the same as what it means to someone else.

Meaning is almost philosophical in this case, we can simplify by saying something like “Usage evolves in a broad cultural sense as well as in an individual lexicon sense.”

Makes you feel like it’s incredibly easy to say the wrong thing, but really, this kind of evolution of usage ultimately informing meaning on a larger scale is exactly how communication works, and it’s totally natural and it’s only when we ask questions around ‘difficult’ words (like ‘troll’) do we start to think about it too hard.

Read more of Phillips’ research and thoughts on defining Internet trolls here, and listen to the episode on On Point in which Phillips appeared with Jonathan Zittrain here.

Future Perfect » Let’s Agree That I Don’t Know You

“In a world of strangers, the act of recognizing who you are has value. But increasingly that personalized greeting is becoming commoditized: from personalised spam to automated birthday greetings; the spread of retail chains with their service training to say a customer’s name out loud after asking for it. Increasingly, this trend toward the value of commoditized recognition will be supplemented by facial recognition.”

Via.

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