Links of the last two weeks

Since it’s been a while since I’ve written, I have a lot of links to put up and comment on. So here we go.

  • danah boyd has made some really great posts to OMST recently. This one asks the interesting question: why are people interested in publicly articulating their social relationships? And this one examines the pitfalls in writing and reading an online description or profile, with the different contexts that may be in play – the person writing a “housing wanted” ad may describe themselves as neat (relative to their former-frat-boy slob roommate), but their new roommate may feel deceived when they move in because their standard of neatness is much higher. Really thought-provoking stuff on context and meaning in a low-information-bandwidth medium such as text.
  • danah also pointed to this Salon article which is an overview of how the virtual world, once described as “a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live”, is becoming ever more intertwined with the real world, with the integration of GPS and other technologies that are tightly-coupled to physical location. I love this trend. I think that social relationships divorced from real-world contexts tend to be weaker and less meaningful (maybe that’s just me). I think that for social software to be meaningful, it has to benefit real-world relationships and networks. So this is another step in that direction. Augmented reality instead of virtual reality.
  • I liked this column by Jakob Nielsen, outlining how many of the attributes we associate with progress are consequences of the Industrial Revolution, e.g. “In the physical world, you win by being big, with economies of scale in manufacturing, worldwide distribution, and branding. Most of these benefits accrue even if you’re mediocre, and in fact, you usually benefit from targeting the lowest common denominator.” In the coming age, we’ll move away from the things that used to work, and those of us that recognize the way things will hopefully evolve may have an advantage.
  • Creationism is back. CREATIONISM?!?!?! Actually, the thing that scares me most is that the majority of people in this country believe in creationism according to a Gallup poll. The discussion in the comments section of that first post also scares me. Some of the creationists try to defend their position, and have nothing to fall back on except for repeated assertions (much like their president) rather than any sort of logic or argument. We need to start teaching good critical thinking skills in our country. Facts aren’t enough. Facts will never be enough. There is too much knowledge in the world for anybody to know even a sliver of it. To live in a world with an abundance of information, people need to learn the skills for evaluating claims made by authorities by applying some basic criteria.

    To take the case of creationism, I like Neil Postman’s idea of teaching kids the scientific method, and how we evaluate scientific ideas, and then letting them judge for themselves between evolution and other theories like creationism. Otherwise, we have a world where people faithfully accept the pronouncements of experts, where they have no way of making a decision when people they are told are “experts” disagree. This leads to situations like the rising tide of creationism (where one set of “scientists” espouse “intelligent design”, and every other legitimate scientist believes in evolution) or even politics (where a poll showed that 40% of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in 9/11 – as my friend Brad pointed out, the war in Iraq is perfectly justified, and in fact required, in the minds of that 40%, so the fact that Kerry came as close as he did to beating Bush is pretty astonishing). Anyway. Sorry. Creationism drives me bonkers. I spent an entire semester in high school arguing with a friend in art class about creationism. We’d both go off, read up on arguments for our side, and present them to each other. In the end, I realized I was never going to convince him. Ever. Because he was not using reason to evaluate which ideas to believe, but merely to rationalize them after having decided. Which is normal (heck, I do it all the time), but it makes it hard to change people’s minds.

  • More polling sadness. According to Newsweek, 55% of Americans believe that every word of the Bible is literally accurate. 67% believe the Christmas story is literally true. I know polls can be misleading, but things like this depress me. I believe that the story of Jesus is a tremendously powerful one. But there’s so much stuff in the Bible that should clearly be treated allegorically. And of the stuff that isn’t, we do ignore huge chunks of it when it suits us. I have a point here about literalness and concrete thought vs. abstraction and the ability to think from different perspectives, but it ain’t going to come together tonight.
  • More good articles over at Alternet. I didn’t like this one, proposing that the Democrats need to get back to economic populism. I think that’s just pandering in a similar fashion to the Republicans’ pandering on cultural issues. I would love to see a party step up and challenge its voters to agree that difficult decisions are necessary. Sometimes factories are no longer competitive and should be shut down. Sometimes abortions are necessary. We would prefer that it not be so, but life is hard sometimes. And parties that tell voters lies on these issues to win their votes may win elections, but they are destroying America. I want a party that commits to education and to critical thinking, but not one that panders to teacher’s unions or standardized testing. I know I’m totally dreaming, but I’d like to think that if we challenge people to step up, they will, as they did in WWII, and continue to do when given the chance for serious input (as Kunstler details). Instead, our political leaders are telling us to lie back down and go to sleep while murmuring sweet nothings in our ears. I know I live in a dreamworld. But, damn, wouldn’t it be nice?
  • I also like this Alternet article where Larry Beinhart, who wrote the book that the movie Wag the Dog is based on, discusses the power of narrative, which is obviously a topic dear to my heart.
  • Lastly, a couple good posts from Ideaflow, The 6 Myths of Creativity, and NASA’s vision of Prototype-as-Design.