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!

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