Friday five: fragility, promises and planets

Some articles this week that caught my attention and that made me think (in spite of this oppressive, brain-fuddling heat):

Our changing brains – via the New York Times

David Brooks of the New York Times delves into the attention span debate: what is so much online reading doing to our brains? Refreshingly, he doesn’t advocate ditching the web to focus on paper. Instead, he points out the different skillset that the two formats encourage: the fluid intelligence we get from the web implies the ability to think and react quickly, while the crystallized intelligence we learn from solitary paper reading leads to more abstract conclusions and complex connections.

“Being online is like being a part of the greatest cocktail party ever and it is going on all the time… Online life is so delicious because it is socializing with almost no friction… This mode of interaction nurtures mental agility… Fluid intelligence is a set of skills that exist in the moment. It’s the ability to perceive situations and navigate to solutions in novel situations, independent of long experience…

Offline learning, at its best, is more like being a member of a book club than a cocktail party… The slowness of solitary reading or thinking means you are not as concerned with each individual piece of data. You’re more concerned with how different pieces of data fit together… You have time to see how one thing layers onto another, producing mixed emotions, ironies and paradoxes… Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use experience, knowledge and the products of lifelong education that have been stored in long-term memory.”

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The Shrinking of the Big Data Promise – by Cory Doctorow for The Guardian

This article makes you wonder about the usefulness of investing in trends, and what the impact of cycles will really be when the dust settles. Assuming it does, of course.

It also touches on the ethics of using Big Data on human behaviour for profit. Are we looking at responsibility? Or profit? Can we combine the two?

“When Facebook’s algorithms predict that a business is well and truly reliant upon Facebook to reach its customers, it simply switches off the business’s ability to reach those customers, so that new updates only go to a small fraction of the company’s followers. Thereafter, a Facebook salesperson gives the business a call and offer to turn the tap back on – for a price. That’s not the surveillance business-model. It’s a much older one: the drug-dealer business-model, where the first taste is free.

The Big Data success stories for predicting human behavior over long terms don’t bear scrutiny. It’s not a triumph of big data to predict that someone searching for “used cars” might respond to an ad for used cars. Neither is it sorcery to predict that a woman who buys folic acid is pregnant. It’s not big data to get paid when someone clicks on a loan application or installs a game…”

“Every technology is overhyped at its birth. The Gartner Hype Cycle has Big Data sliding into the long, deep “trough of disillusionment.” As the cycle astutely observes, overpromising doesn’t mean there’s no there there. As big data techniques stabilise into a few applications where it works well and long, more of the surveillance business model will blow away.”

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The rise and fall and rise of Pluto

Photo: Nasa/Press Association

Photo: Nasa/Press Association

Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently (probably cooler there), you know that the NASA spaceship New Horizons flew past Pluto on Tuesday. Really, we need to take a minute and think about how absolutely amazing that is. We sent a machine all the way past Pluto!!!! That’s very far away.

I’m a fan of CGP Grey’s videos. Call them mini tutorials, entertaining lessons or just plain fun graphic explanations, he uses fast-paced imaging, humor and a dead-pan voice to throw an intense amount of information at us in four minutes. Somehow, it sticks.

In honor of the (I repeat, amazing) NASA achievement, here is his video from a couple of years ago, explaining who Pluto was kicked out of the planetary system:

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What do you want to be when you grow up? via Fast Company

This list of C-suite jobs of the future is more thought-provoking than it seems at first. Especially when you start to wonder how the higher education system will need to change to produce people qualified to fill these new roles. We need more discussion about what opportunities our kids are going to graduate into, and less hand-wringing about how technology is taking away jobs.

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Please don’t be yourself – via Medium

An eye-opening analysis of how we unintentionally try to destroy the uniqueness that is love. And then we wonder where it went.

“If we were to be really honest with ourselves, we would see that love and comfort are two very separate concepts whose edges we blur all the time.

Love and genius are expansive in nature — living just beyond our expectations and understanding. They are exhilarating and terrifying and just as likely to inspire dread in our hearts as wings on our backs. And still we ignore the fact that love and genius come with very real costs — chief among them, our comfort.

So we say to love, and we say to genius:

Fit here. Fit in this tiny space. Where we may keep you. Where we may like you. Where we may understand.”

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Carrying on the theme of fragility and beauty, the patience, stamina and vision needed to cut these paper flowers is staggering…

by Maude White, via Colossal

by Maude White, via Colossal

In the hands of artist Maude White, the relationship between space and body, between there and not-there, becomes peaceful, pleasurable, even awe-inspiring. And the faith in the fragility of the physical speaks more of hope than sculptures made of steel ever could.

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I’m going to take a couple of weeks off now, in part to disconnect and in part to try and make headway in a new project (more details soon). But I will be back, full of summer-infused energy, watermelon and inspiration. Until then, have a lot of fun!

Let’s Disrupt Disruption

Aggressive nouns such as “disruption” are now part of our daily business speak, and entrepreneurs the world over dream of participating in the upheaval that is taking place. And yet hardly anyone is stopping to take a look at what is really happening and to put it in historical context. We are all caught up in the excited frenzy, proud to be part of it and desperate to not miss out. We rush along, convinced that those that are in front of us know the way. We follow the hype.

And yet, how many of us have stopped to think about what “disruption” really means? Can we actually use that word to describe the profound change that we’re seeing in our society? Or is it merely part of this strange new language that seems to be engulfing our meetings and business plans?

photo by Saul Cuellar for Unsplash

photo by Saul Cuellar for Unsplash

Disruption means, according to just about any dictionary that you care to pick up: “Disturbances or problems which interrupt an event, activity or process.” The key word here is “interrupt”. Substitute that with “change”, “innovate” or even “increase the market of”, and you are no longer talking about disruption.  You’re talking about innovation.

In spite of what some renowned business school professors will tell you, innovation and disruption are not the same thing. True, innovation can disrupt, but the instances of that are extremely rare. “Better”, “faster”, “cheaper”, they are not disruption. They are innovation.

Disruption has as its root the Latin word for “break”. Schedules can be disrupted. Weddings, power supply, any process that can be brought to a fast stop, can be disrupted. But entire sectors of the economy do not suddenly stop working, unless it’s due to a change in legislation. Businesses close down, true, but the cause is not a new upstart with a better technology. The cause is a refusal to change. Those businesses are not disrupted. They close because of rigid internal processes, poor cash management, and a myriad of structural reasons that have been part of the business landscape since even before the Industrial Revolution.

Change is natural in business. Businesses that don’t change, tend not to survive. None of this is equivalent to disruption. It is merely evolution at work. It is impossible to deny that we live in exciting times, and that the rate of change of our society is accelerating. But to call the important changes that we’re seeing “disruptive” does our progress a disservice, and belittles what is yet to come. It makes it harder for true change to get the recognition it deserves. And it relieves markets and investors of their duty to regard new business models on their own progressive merits.

To call so much of the business innovation of our decade “disruption” is to buy into the macho, tech-speak hype. And hype is almost always damaging. It almost always implodes, affecting valid propositions along with the more tenuous, hype-based ones. Before that, however, it entices hungry players into the market that perhaps don’t have the solid vision needed to build a lasting industry. Entrepreneurs decide that if something is fashionable, there must be big profits to be had, and launch businesses based on perception rather than fundamentals. That can work, but it is extremely unlikely. The hype attracts more funds into the market, but it diverts them from the core goal of helping to build on practical innovation. It dilutes, it distracts, and it fuels bubbles that inevitably pop.

This aspiration to advance and to improve is innate to humanity. The digital revolution empowers those aspirations, it gives us the freedom and the means to get heard, and is going to lead us towards extraordinary innovations and solutions. That is what we should be focussing on. We don’t need to disrupt to propel our civilization forward. Disruption implies interruption, destruction and inefficiency. But let’s give it some credit, it does sometimes have its place. We need to reclaim the word, for situations in which it is useful. Such as, when a trend steam-rollers its way through our collective psyche, leaving in its wake confusion and insecurity. That trend deserves a bit of disruption. And that trend is disruption. So, we need to disrupt disruption, and get back to the business of progress.

Friday five: dictatorship, curation and trees that email

The dictatorship of edtech – via HackEducation

The inimitable Audrey Watters takes us on an alarming tour of the current ed-tech scene, the role of centralized administration of the programs, and the insidiousness of computers in classrooms. And you thought they were there to help…

“And so I think it’s time now to recognize that if we want education that is more just and more equitable and more sustainable, that we need to get the ideologies that are hardwired into computers out of the classroom.”

So, the computers aren’t the problem? (Whew…) Right, it’s the network.

“No longer was it up to the individual teacher to have a computer in her classroom. It was up to the district, the Central Office, IT. The sorts of hardware and software that was purchased had to meet those needs – the needs and the desire of the administration, not the needs and the desires of innovative educators, and certainly not the needs and desires of students.”

True, you hear so many teachers complaining about rules imposed by administrators who don’t understand teaching. It’s always been that way, though, right? Was the textbook era any better?

Audrey’s argument has reason, and her prose is powerful. But, she overlooks the alternative. She urges that we “stop this ed-tech machine”, and while part of me shouts “yes! Administration doesn’t understand!”, the part of me that has seen technologies strive to become mainstream in spite of massive resistance based on fear and mistrust of anything new, needs to point out that of course we’re not going to get it right the first time. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep on trying. Technology is not being used effectively, on the whole, in the classroom. But not having it there would do more harm than good. Central control does defeat the purpose of personalization. But regulation of some sort helps with the trust issues, and can protect.

“Google is at the heart of two things that computer-using educators should care deeply and think much more critically about: the collection of massive amounts of our personal data and the control over our access to knowledge.

Neither of these are neutral. Again, these are driven by ideology and by algorithms.”

Yes, we need to understand algorithms better. But, any access is better than no access, and a completely user-defined information access sounds unfortunately, for now anyway, too good to be true. In traditional libraries, who decided what books the library would carry?

“You’ll hear the ed-tech industry gleefully call this “personalization.” More data collection and analysis, they contend, will mean that the software bends to the student. To the contrary, as Seymour pointed out long ago, instead we find the computer programming the child. If we do not unpack the ideology, if the algorithms are all black-boxed, then “personalization” will be discriminatory.”

What I love about this article is that Audrey makes us stop and think. Maybe, in fact probably, we’ll push on with our iPads and online curriculums regardless. But hopefully we are more aware that this is not the utopia we were expecting. More fool us for expecting it.

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They look like seagulls perching on the rocks. Surveillance as art?

(by Jakub Geltner, via Colosssal)

(by Jakub Geltner, via Colossal)

By the artist Jakub Geltner, via Colossal.

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Whatsapp as a news service, via NiemanLab

This is one of those brilliant, slap-on-the-head, “why didn’t I think of that” ideas: WhatsApp as a news service. Now part of the Facebook stable, WhatsApp knows what we’re interested in. Asking us to opt in to the service shouldn’t be too big of a hurdle. And we can then get breaking news without having to even unlock our phone.

whatsapp news

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The photos from the National Geographic Traveller Photo Contest 2015 are jaw-droppingly stunning. If you have some time this weekend, take a look, and prepare to be amazed.

(by Sandra Boles, taken in Ethiopia)

(by Sandra Boles, taken in Ethiopia)

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What does Twitter want to be? via TechCrunch

“Twitter will either die or fully realize its potential as a massive media empire, it doesn’t have other options.”

Just when you thought you understood a service, they go and talk about changing it completely. Lucas Matney explains why Twitter should leverage what they know about our interests (every retweet and favourite is data) to feed us curated information.

“With how Apple is able to put its finger on the pulse of music taste based on a few follows, Twitter should be able to balance my hundreds of connections with global topics and and give me an appealing list of trending topics specific to me…  I want Twitter to adapt to my cultural obsessions. To do this, Twitter is going to have to forego relying on editor-curated content for this purpose and strengthen their content recommendation engines.”

As much as I like Twitter now, I like Lucas’ version even more. Less skimming and scrolling needed. More tapping, more trust.

“Following Apple Music’s models of curated and recommended content could be a key for Twitter’s future success. With it Twitter might be able to soar to new heights and become a truly revolutionary media company.

Or, who knows, maybe Apple could just buy Twitter.”

Bottom line, don’t get comfortable.

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When you give a tree an email address… via The Atlantic

In this wonderful article that starts out surreal (trees with email addresses?) and ends up profound (our relationship with our environment), Adrienne LaFrance points out that technology is enhancing our awareness of our surroundings, and our emotional investment in our neighbourhood.

“Modern tools for communicating, publishing, and networking aren’t just for connecting to other humans, but end up establishing relationships between people and anthropomorphized non-human objects, too.”

The city of Melbourne, Australia assigned emails to the city’s trees as part of a program to make it easier to report problems like broken branches. They found that people started using these emails to communicate with the trees. Sometimes the trees would receive emails from other trees:

tree email

Sometimes the trees would write back:

tree email 2

tree email 3

“The move toward the Internet of Things only encourages the sense that our objects are not actually just things but acquaintances.”

I do, actually, feel very close to my Nespresso machine. I think an open line of communication would deepen our relationship. And be entertaining.

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I’m guessing that you didn’t know that today was National Piña Colada Day (what??? where have you been?). Well, it is, and here’s a refreshing image to start the weekend off properly.

(image via Metro)

(image via Metro)

Why do we still call them phones?

Yes, you still use those glowing rectangles in your pocket to make and receive phone calls. But is that what you do most on the device? Seriously, do a rough back-of-the-envelope (envelope? who still uses envelopes?) calculation of the percentage of use that phone calls take up. In my case, it doesn’t even reach 3%.

What do you use your phone for?

image via Death to the Stock Photo

image via Death to the Stock Photo

A study cited in a 2013 article in the Harvard Business Review showed that 68% of smartphone use is at home. The most common activity was not chatting or shopping, but “me time”, such as watching videos, reading articles or playing games. Interacting with other people, either via phone calls or chats, only accounted for 19% of smartphone use. Less than a fifth. And of that, phone calls were probably not even 5%.

Let’s go deeper. According to Pew Internet Research, in the US:

  • 68% of smartphone owners use their phone to follow news events
  • 67% use their phone to share pictures, videos, or commentary
  • 62% of smartphone owners have used their phone in the past year to look up health information
  • 57% have used their phone to make payments or manage their bank account
  • 56% use their phone to learn about community events or activities
  • 44% to look up information about a place to live
  • 43% to look up information about a job
  • 40% to look up government services or information
  • 30% to take a class or get educational content.

The smartphone has moved way beyond phone calls. In fact, less and less of my social interaction is done by phone and more by asynchronous chatting via Whatsapp, SMS or even email. This lets me control my time more efficiently. I have my time for concentration with the “Do Not Disturb” activated. And I have my time for sending and answering messages. And occasionally a phone call will come in at a time that I can receive it, and I talk to a human voice. I spend much less time on the phone than either of my parents did. But I connect and interact with many more people during the day.

So, the smartphone may not be so much a phone, more a device that connects us. But to what? To each other? To the cloud? To things? The answer is yes to all. We use our devices to connect with each other, by voice, text or whatever. We also connect to the cloud to receive and to store information. We download, we upload, we share. And the connectivity will only increase with the roll out of the Internet of Things. Connected gadgets – be they doors or kettles or humidifiers – will communicate with us via our small screens. Sensors will allow us to communicate with traffic lights, bus stops, shop merchandising. Our phones connect us to our environment.

They also connect us to ourselves, to our digital personas. When we are posting to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., we’re sending messages out there, yes. We’re connecting with the cloud. But they’re messages that craft our digital identity. They say a lot about us, and nothing about the receiver. In “communicating” with the ether, or with the masses, however you want to call it, in “communicating” with the crowd, we are defining our digital selves. And recovering that persona, admiring it, tweaking it, polishing it, is available 24/7 thanks to the smartphone.

Your smartphone doesn’t just connect. It also manages your life: it tells you when to drink water, when to leave for a meeting across town, what to cook for dinner, how much exercise you should do… It organizes your transport, plays you music, feeds you news, sends your emails and takes your photographs. It can find you a job, remind you of birthdays, manage your banking, do your shopping and log your symptoms.

And smartphones are everywhere. 80% of all online adults use one.  A Nielsen report from a year ago states that 85% of millennials (18 to 35-year-olds) in the US use one. The percentage is probably higher now, and it’s unlikely that they’ll be giving them up any time soon.  Ericsson just published their Mobility Report, which estimates that by 2020, 70% of the world’s population, including the young, the elderly and those in emerging markets, will have a smartphone subscription.

With smartphone use spreading so fast, and with the majority of the world letting the device become an integral part of daily life, isn’t it about time we came up with a better name?

With “smartwatches”, the situation is a bit different. Most of what we will do with those gadgets is check the time, like we used to do with our watches before our hand-held devices made them unnecessary. We’ll do a lot of other things with them, too, but I bet that in the end just letting us know the time will end up being the top function. So, the name “smartwatch” sort of makes sense. But “smartphone”? Not so much.

The Chinese seem to have a better handle on the bigger picture. Their word for mobile phone is shouji, which literally translates to “hand machine” (or so I’m told, I’m not exactly fluent). That describes much more accurately what the device is: a machine that we hold in our hands. However, “machine” implies mechanics which implies physical production or movement of some type. “Hand computer” sounds more accurately descriptive. It’s a mouthful, though, so surely we can come up with something better.

I asked my son, the creative one in the family, what the smartphone should be called if we couldn’t call it that. “Ocean”, was his response. Hmm. A vast resource, infinite yet always changing, that takes us places, brings things to us, provides and instructs. A resource that is different things to different people at different times of the day or year. Perhaps “ocean” is too generic. “Pocket ocean”, maybe?

Gotta go, my pocket ocean is ringing.

Nature and technology and mind-blowing mixing

This video by the artist Joe Hamilton has some really freakish editing, and highlights the use of video as art. No plot, no pattern, nothing but moving visuals with high resolution and crisp patterns that hold you spellbound.


Nature and technology, texture and surface… I found the juxtapositions disturbing but not disagreeable. And I found myself wanting to see it again, to take another look at the emotions it produces.

Take a look for yourself:


Friday five: bubbles, holograms and emojis

Bubbles tend to burst – via TechCrunch

The impending doom chorus seems to be growing. This sobering article in TechCrunch cites several high-profile investors and CEOs on the craziness of current valuations fuelled by easy money, and how the race to close the next round obscures the underlying purpose of the company.

“As Wilson emphasizes, “At some point you have to build a real business, generate real profits, sustain the company without the largess of investor’s capital, and start producing value the old fashioned way.” Gurley, a stalwart investor, puts the discussion into context by saying “We’re in a risk bubble … we’re taking on … a level of risk that we’ve never taken on before in the history of Silicon Valley startups.” ”

“The fact that we are in a tech bubble is in no doubt. The fact that the bubble is about to burst, however, is not something the sector wants to wake up to. The good times the sector is enjoying are becoming increasingly artificial. The tech startup space at the moment resembles the story of the emperor with no clothes. It remains for a few established, reasoned voices to persist with their concerns so the majority will finally listen.”

But even if the majority start to listen, what good will it do? Values are already over-inflated, and startup investment is not the most liquid of asset classes. In other words, even if you realise now that a collapse is overdue, what exactly are you going to do about it? The sad thing is, a collapse will penalize startups that are potentially valuable (economically and socially) by making funding extremely hard to raise. At least until we collectively get over the shock and start all over again.

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Pass me that hologram, will you? – via Mashable

image via Mashable

image via Mashable

3d holograms that we can touch. For now, they’re basic 3d renditions of 2d images, projected into the air. But just imagine what this could evolve into. Who needs virtual reality, right?

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Emojis: trendy slang, or a whole new language? – from Wired

“…emoji are more than emotional punctuation. They add context, enable wordplay, insert nuance, and let you speak your mind while taking the edge off your message. They’re tone-of-voice for a medium that has no tone and no voice.”

The emotional context of what we say… Who knew it was so important? Literature has gotten by for centuries without adding cute faces, and has managed to convey meaning and feeling. True, it may have taken pages to explain what a simple little picture or sequence of symbols can express in a few milimetres.

So, will emoji evolve into a whole new language? A universal one at that? I so hope not. They are a convenient way to express yourself. But language needs nuance and roots and cultural identity. They are changing the way we communicate, perhaps even the way we view language. And that’s pretty amazing, a fascinating concept. But as a substitute?

“…nobody is going to learn emoji as their first language. So even though emoji can answer questions, modify sentences, and give punch lines, they are closer to slang than anything else.”

So, just for fun then? Phew.

image via Wired

image via Wired

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Fassbender + Sorkin + Boyle + some guy called Steve

I’m sure you’ve seen this, but I’m putting it in here anyway. I’m not a member of the Steve Jobs cult. I didn’t watch the other biopic. I didn’t read the book. But I am looking forward to seeing this, as I would any Aaron Sorkin film. Especially one directed by Danny Boyle. Plus, I’ll watch anything with Michael Fassbender in it. So, October, bring it on.

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Apple vs Spotify  via The Guardian

I updated my IoS operating system on the 30th of June, and got the new Apple Music. I’m still playing around with it, and so far it seems fun. I like the musician-curated playlists. But, so far I’m planning on sticking with Spotify. It seems cleaner (I know, even), more targeted, and I like the playlists so much better. But, it’s early days yet, and I will be playing with Apple Music some more. It should be a fun summer.

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So this is progress? – via Fast Company

Sealed Air have come up with a bubble wrap that won’t pop. Why????????

image via Fast Company

image via Fast Company

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Have a great, summery weekend (if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere), with lots of music and ice cubes… :)

Bitcoin, Greece, speculation and headlines

Alternative currencies love a good crisis, and bitcoin is no exception. The price has been trending up for a month now, and of course commentators are attributing that to Greeks buying bitcoin. Of course, right? No idea whether they’ll be paid in euros or drachmas or roubles (if at all), so of course they’re buying bitcoins, the international digital money that is beholden to no government and knows no transaction limits.

Source: Coindesk

Source: Coindesk

The “majority of the Greek population is trying to move their funds to Bitcoin”, claims (Really? Where did they get that from?) According to DigitalTrends, “Online Payments Halted in Greece, Citizens Eyeing Bitcoin to Protect Savings” – the article carries no reference to how bitcoin is too speculative to protect savings, and no data to back up the claim other than reference to a “flood” of information requests. It goes on: “Greeks are rushing to Bitcoin”, shrieks CNN. It’s frustrating when renowned journalists confuse a high percentage growth rate with a high number. 200% is a high growth rate, but not that material when you realise that you’ve moved from 2 to 6. The CNN article cites a 79% increase in Greek bitcoin trades, without specifying the starting point. According to German marketplace Bitcoin, 10x the number of Greeks are opening accounts than usual. Again, no actual statistics provided.

Getting practical, Cryptocoins News declares that “Greece is not buying bitcoin”. This sounds more plausible. While not based on actual hard data, it does highlight how difficult it would be for Greeks to buy bitcoin, unless they had already opened bank accounts in other countries. Which those that could, probably already have. Maybe they are buying bitcoins, but it will look as if the purchases come from elsewhere.

Buying bitcoins directly from Greece right now would be very, very difficult. Online transactions are at the moment blocked, and those taking their allowed €60 from the ATMs (when they can find an ATM with cash) will probably want to use it for things like, you know, food.

Max Edin of the exchange Localbitcoins told Coindesk that he “can’t see any notable increase in new registered users from Greece apart from normal growth.” Another exchange active in Greece, Kraken, reports the same.

Several Reddit feeds leave no doubt as to the limited opportunities for Greeks wanting to buy bitcoins now:

Sure, many bitcoin enthusiasts and exchanges are trying to profit from the Greeks’ plight.

It may be opportunistic, but it’s good marketing. Why not offer Greeks no administration charges on their new bitcoin wallets or trading accounts? It’s a good idea, and I don’t think that any of us non-Greeks will begrudge them this preferential treatment. Why not rush to set up a Greek exchange?

As for whether the Greeks should be buying bitcoins now… I’d say no. It’s still speculative, and while it looks promising, there is no guarantee that it will still be around a few years from now. True, the same could be said of the euro or the drachma or whatever currency the government chooses. But meanwhile, that currency will be usable and exchangeable.

Looking at the practical, non-speculative side, Bitcoin is not yet useful for daily life in Greece, as very few retail outlets accept it. As a holder of value, historical price fluctuations show that that’s a risky bet.

But, the increased level of interest is exciting:

Google searches for Bitcoin in Greece (source: Google Trends)

Google searches for Bitcoin in Greece (source: Google Trends)

And with the help of so many headlines, we could well see an uptick in Greek bitcoin wallets once the capital controls are lifted. But it will continue to be more speculative than practical. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact the more people getting comfortable with Bitcoin, the more solid its base becomes. As long as the influx into the new currency is cautious and reasonable – a transactional collapse, a declining price and the disappearance of the value of Greek savings would not bring positive publicity to a still fledgling opportunity. Bitcoin needs to be seen as a practical solution, not a risky punt. Crazy headlines may enhance awareness, but they may also create unrealistic expectations which hurt everyone in the long run.

The spectre of Grexit and the sensationalist headlines are helping spread the Bitcoin word, not just in Greece, but worldwide. Will this make the price go up? Probably. Will the price then come down? Again, probably. The main impact on Bitcoin from the Greek crisis always was and continues to be speculative. Heightened awareness of Bitcoin’s relative stability (with all this going on, it’s surprising that the price has not fluctuated more drastically) will re-inforce confidence. Its philosophical refuge in political turmoil will attract interest. And many will spot business opportunities that increase liquidity and ease of use on the ground. Widespread use in Greece is not going to spring up overnight. But it will spread, and it will be useful, and it will further extend the penetration of Bitcoin into our collective financial psyche.

100% on your exam? I’m so sorry.

My daughter just got her best report card ever. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty darn good, and she positively glowed as praise and hugs were heaped upon her 12-year-old head. Yet I wasn’t comfortable with telling her how proud those grades made me. I don’t want her to feel that my pride is based on getting As, because it really isn’t. I wasn’t comfortable with telling her how proud we are that she did so well, because that’s only a tiny part of the story.

I was, however, completely comfortable with telling her how proud I am of her improvement. Because I am. Good grades measure accomplishment, which may or may not be within your control. Improvement in grades measures effort, which generally is in your hands. We’re not a results-focussed family. We’re more interested in progress. As a fascinating article in The Atlantic this week by Josh Hamblin (“100% is Overrated”) points out, once you’ve reached top marks, where do you go from there? Do you really want to spend the rest of your life “holding position”? Is that territorial mentality constructive? Will is really foster the entrepreneurs and creative geniuses of the future?

by Joshua Sortino for unsplash

by Joshua Sortino for unsplash

That said, I don’t agree with the cited expert’s exhortation to not tell your kids they’re smart. Having seen my daughter hold herself back for so long because she was convinced that she wasn’t, I am so delighted to see her start to believe that maybe, just maybe, she is after all. Thinking that you’re smart gives you confidence to embark on daring learning projects, under the assumption that you’ll be able to keep up. Thinking that you’re smart doesn’t necessarily stop you from trying. Thinking that you’re not smart, would.

“When people perform well (academically or otherwise) at early ages and are labeled smart or gifted, they become less likely to challenge themselves. They become less likely to make mistakes, because they stay in their comfortable comfort zone and stop growing. And their fixed mindset persists through adulthood.” (from 100% is Overrated by Josh Hamblin)

For the same reason, I don’t agree with the assertion that smart or gifted kids are less likely to challenge themselves. Again, the confidence that you can probably learn anything you want would encourage challenges. My son was labelled “gifted” at 3 by his school, and went on to challenge himself in the most surprising ways, such as teaching himself French at 11, and Japanese at 14. Interestingly enough, his intelligence never translated into good exam grades, and I spent countless hours encouraging an anguished 15-year-old to forget about the grades and look at what else he’s done…

Action vs being. What you do says so much more about you than what you are. What you achieve speaks more to your character than your grades. And when it comes to being productive in the big wide world, good character trumps high innate intelligence any time. But that’s not to say that intelligence isn’t something to value and strive for. And that feeling smart isn’t something to cherish and appreciate, for the confidence it brings.

And here’s the thing: “smart” was never intended to be an absolute, a binary “you are or you aren’t” kind of thing. Everyone is good at something. Everyone can acquire new skills. Everyone can be smart in some way. And these days, there are so many ways to discover your ability, to use it and to promote it. The edtech scene is full of apps that gamify and measure and display, and the range is so vast, and growing all the time, that exposure to your niche is sooner or later going to happen. And once you find it, there are now so many ways to find others like you, to form or join a community, to improve your skill, connections and influence.

So, “smart” is nothing to be ashamed of. Telling people – your kids, your team, your friends – that they’re smart is not a motivation dampener, it’s actually encouraging. And I certainly don’t have the academic pedigree of the experts cited in the article, but I have seen up close the good that that confidence can do. I’m currently teaching myself Python programming. I launched myself into this without the slightest doubt that I’ll learn it, because, hey, I’m smart, right? It’s turning out to be a lot harder than I expected. Which makes it a lot more fun.

“What matters for improving performance is that a person is challenged, which requires a mindset that is receptive to being challenged—if not actively seeking out challenge and failure. And that may be the most important thing a teacher can impart.” (from 100% is Overrated by Josh Hamblin)

What I sincerely hope that I’ve managed to teach my kids is that being smart is not the goal. It’s a tool. Getting things done is the goal. Moving forward, mastering new skills, producing, creating, asking questions, finding answers, asking more questions… Getting good grades can be a worthwhile goal, too, as they do still open doors. The important thing is to know that good grades are no more than a measurement, they are not and should not be a defining characteristic, because once you’re out there in real life, good grades mean very little. Your attitude towards getting things done means a lot.

The article goes so far as to suggest that when our kids come home with perfect marks on a test, we offer them our condolences. “I’m sorry that you didn’t get the chance to learn.” Again, I respectfully disagree. Rather than paint high marks with the negative brush of lost opportunity, I propose that we praise the effort that went into it. “Brilliant! Well done! Clever you! Now what are you going to tackle?” In motivation, as in life, you need your failures and your struggles, but you also need your wins. And you need your confidence. And you need the knowledge, born of experience, that achievement feels good. Did you learn, did you improve? If the answer is yes, whether you get a C+ or an A+, a 60% or a 100%, whether you came first or second from last, you should be proud. You should be praised. And you should be encouraged to keep going.