Friday five: Cool Lego sets, life advice and a look at knowledge

A lot of thought-provoking stuff this week:

Our changing perception of time, by Nicholas Carr in his blog RoughType

Computers are getting faster and faster, yet our increasing expectations make us more and more impatient. What will be “fast enough”?

“As we experience faster flows of information online, we become, in other words, less patient people. But impatience is not just a network effect. The phenomenon is amplified by the constant buzz of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, texting, and social networking in general. Society’s “activity rhythm” has never been so harried. Impatience is a contagion spread from gadget to gadget.”

Carr worries about where this is leading:

“… it also has implications for how all of us think, socialize, and in general live… We’ll be less likely to experience anything that requires us to wait, that doesn’t provide us with instant gratification. That has cultural as well as personal consequences. The greatest of works — in art, science, politics, whatever — tend to take time and patience both to create and to appreciate. The deepest experiences can’t be measured in fractions of seconds.”

As usual, Carr extrapolates to the general what he sees in the specific. And he assumes that our expectations and habits are so simple as to be the same for all situations. Of course we expect the same from our computers as from a relaxing massage, or a beautiful sunset, or a moving piece of music. It’s true that we are getting more impatient in front of computers. Just this morning I found myself thinking “we need a new computer” when the desktop was taking a few seconds to think about printing a document. But that is more a case of experience breeding expectation about one particular tool: the computer.

On the whole, we are complicated creatures. And our expectations are not uniform, nor inflexible, nor static. Even in front of the computer our levels of patience can very over the course of a day, even an hour. Are we stressed? Are we in a hurry? Are we enjoying what we’re doing? Those answers affect how long a wait of seconds can seem.

And losing patience is not necessarily a bad thing. If we abandon a shopping cart because the page loads slowly, it’s probably fairly safe to assume that we didn’t need that thing anyway? I’m not advocating a policy of no frivolous shopping. But not buying something shouldn’t be cause for alarm. Not watching that video is not really going to affect anyone’s quality of life. And if indeed our “move along now” instinct takes over our psyche to the extent that we cannot even enjoy a relaxing glass of wine, I expect that the strain on our bodies will eventually force us to slow down. Middle-age burnout will send us off to a Mediterranean island or similar, to gaze at a leaf and meander the coves. We are, usually, self-correcting mechanisms.

However, again as usual, Carr brilliantly convinces us to step back and ask ourselves “Who’s in charge here?” And in so doing, he helps us to recover control of our reactions. I know that next time I find myself reaching for the mouse when a page takes too long to load, I will check myself. And then I will probably close the page anyway, because I do have better things to do than to spend valuable seconds staring at a revolving circle. And I do want to get a new computer.

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I am definitely not too old… Good news from Lego, via Neatorama

THIS news has made my day… Lego have announced the August release of a Big Bang set. Really, Lego + Big Bang = YES PLEASE!


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The Middle of Things: Advice to Young Writers, by Andrew Solomon in the New Yorker

A moving homage to humility and the art of not knowing everything…

“To know more is simply a matter of industry; to accept what you will never know is trickier. The belief that questions are precious whether or not they have answers is the hallmark of a mature writer, not the naïve blessing of a beginner.”

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What is knowledge for? – Danny Crichton via TechCrunch

Danny Crichton has a similar take on ignorance. It’s inevitable, and it’s increasing (since the extent of what we know that we don’t know is in our face all the time). We can pack in more data into our already saturated brains, but we won’t necessarily be smarter. We’ll know more, sure, but what good does that really do?

“We will never stop being the deer in the headlights of knowledge. We shouldn’t celebrate ignorance, but neither can we cure it. Instead, students – hopefully aided someday by a new generation of education startups – need to learn how to navigate in a world where the frontier of knowledge is rapidly expanding and dynamic. We need to inculcate purpose-driven learning and move away from a model of slurping up all the data in the world. “

“Data is not knowledge however, and knowledge is not wisdom… We can consume all the facts in the world and still not comprehend what is really going on.The rise of explanatory journalism – pushed aggressively by Vox and several other internet publications – is a partial antidote to this problem. However, we are only moving from data to knowledge, and we still haven’t found wisdom.”

Danny proposes that we ask ourselves why rather than how. “Why do I need this information?”, rather than “How can I get it?”.

“People can be incredibly smart, even brilliant sometimes, and yet still be bad at deep learning. The internet has given us this omniscience that we have never had before, and we suddenly have this ability to see all of the details that we don’t know about. We need to inculcate the skills to navigate that world, handle ambiguity and ignorance, and become more purpose-driven learners.”

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Underground life, via FastCoDesign

This is hypnotically cool, a 3d interactive map of the London Underground:


Check out the article to see it rotate and flip…

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3d printing using your arm as a template, via Dezeen

I include this article in the list because the idea and the tech are jaw-dropping.  You can design jewellery to be 3d-printed using your arm as a template. So what if I hardly ever wear jewellery, and so what if it’s not going to fix pressing world problems, I think that the idea is ingenious, and who knows where it could lead? At the very least to efficient arm casts. And if I did wear bracelets, I wouldn’t mind wearing one of these.

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Apple’s implicit support for ad blockers, from Wired

Apple’s implicit support for ad-blocking devices is a blow to media companies that depend on the advertisement revenue model. However, Apple is not the only one delivering that blow, each and every user who installs ad blockers has already done their little bit. The blows add up, and eventually really start to hurt. So, what are the media companies going to do about it? A very good question, indeed. Fight back? Not working. Change revenue stream? Easier said than done. It’s a tough battle, and one that affects us all. Ad blockers are a part of online life. Yet all of us want the media that we enjoy to continue to publish. So if we don’t pay for it by seeing the ads, who will?

The underlying assumptions are flawed, however. Does my seeing a banner ad really benefit the advertiser, so much so that they will happily pay the media company? Through intelligent ad targeting, perhaps. But most of the ads I see are not that targeted, and clutter up my reading experience, so much so that I have on occasion abandoned a media source in favour of a cleaner one. Personally, I would rather pay for a subscription, in order to not have to put up with ads.

While the headline gets your attention, the article touches on Apple’s longer-term strategy here, which is to channel users to the Apple apps. A bit convoluted and very far-reaching, it could well be a glimpse of the future of the Internet.

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So, is the light half full or half empty? via Ignant

Original and intriguing lamps, by Kazakhstan-based designer Nissa Kinjalina. I have no idea where I’d put it, but I want one.

Nissa Kinjalina Living Light— x —

Have a great weekend!

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