Need to Know

Boston College Magazine • Winter 2012

Demystification. Media Studies expert Siva Vaidhyanathan warns that an overly cozy relationship with techno-gadgetry is fostering a reliance on "magical thinking" among the liberal arts crowd. In the same way that "going online" has morphed from a process to a state of being, Vaidhyanathan cites a worrisome trend toward trusting acceptance of Big Data manipulation: "The dynamo that will flood the world with data is somehow opaque to us, its action invisible." Read on for Vaidhyanathan's recommendations for incorporating more science—specifically statistics—into liberal arts education.

He's right about statistics. He's right about ceding the magicality of the devices with which we interact and that we let extend ourselves. If you are content with the curtain drawn you will indeed pay no attention to the man behind it. Another reason to applaud the Maker movement. (Michalko)

In Defense of Echo Chambers

Personal Democracy Media • June 13, 2012

Fact check.Author David Weinberger says the echo chambers people tend to seek out on the Net can be "dangerous, but they are also a condition of thought and understanding." He uses "progressive" echo chamber as a positive example of a self-reinforcing community that also seeks to engage outside its bubble. Read the text or watch the video to find out more about why sometimes the best way out of an echo chamber is through an echo chamber. (See the text of this talk.)

This strikes me as an interesting extension of Vaidhyanathan's observations in the preceding piece. Echo chambers are another way we draw the curtain. It's difficult for me, however, to see how to avoid the unconscious choices we make that put us in the company of others like us. All my attempts to be mindful about this feel a bit like the virtual equivalent of assembling a "balanced meal." You can serve it but how often will you eat it?


3-D Copying Makes Michelangelos of the Masses

Bloomberg View • June 14, 2012

Make me a copy. A combination of increasingly sophisticated digital scanning techniques and inexpensive 3-D printing is opening the door to a future where art lovers will have the tools to make their own sculptural reproductions. Read on for ideas on ways museums could embrace and leverage these new capabilities.

I finally got to see one of these printers in action at a lab in my daughter's high school alma mater. Even while still primitive it was awesome. And I think it's a telling observation that just doing the work to create the scan forced a level of concentration with the object that resulted in a deeper understanding than you'd get just looking. Making pulls the curtain aside a bit. (Michalko)

The Call of the Future

The Wilson Quarterly • Spring 2012

Look who's talking. This brief overview of the historical and cultural impact of telephony appears to come full circle—from the early days when the first jarring brrrrings were deemed annoyingly intrusive, to today's text- and e-mail-heavy society where phone calls once again seem . . . annoyingly intrusive. Read on for insight into the psychology of communication and why our kids prefer to text us.

Understanding the life cycle of one technology as a way to examine and forecast the trajectory of another technology is tricky business. Nevertheless this is a good overview that highlights how little cultural self-reflection we've done of telephony. (One dimension where technology analogies seem to work well is when the technology represents infrastructure. Back in the mid-90s Amy Friedlander did a very good series of short books on the history of infrastructures—railroad, electricity, telephone, etc. Always wished they'd had wider publication.) (Michalko)

Happiness Is a Glass Half Empty

The Guardian • June 15, 2012

Accentuate the negative. This excerpt from Oliver Burkeman's The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking offers a new twist on finding true happiness. It turns out that some experiments have shown that spending time and energy focusing on positive outcomes can actually reduce people's motivation to achieve them. Read on to find out why the Stoics found that facing failure was a more effective strategy for dealing with negative emotions.

You'll be drawn in by the "Museum of Failed Products," then you should stay to click the links in the article. (Michalko)

Above the Fold Quiz

According to an item in this week's News and Views section, what is the name of the continent-wide campaign to bring Wikipedia and libraries together with on-site events?

Get the answer.