Author Robin Sloan has written short stories and worked for Twitter. His new book brings those two worlds together to argue that embracing digital culture doesn’t mean you have to give up the treasured books — and values — of the past.
Online reviews of restaurants, travel deals, apps and just about anything you want to buy have become a powerful driver of consumer behavior. Unsurprisingly, they have also created a powerful incentive to cheat.
Dr. John Riolo, "The Insider" interviews Dr. Scott O. Lilienfeld, co-author of 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions About Human Behavior with Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, and Barry Beyerstein published by Wiley-Blackwell.
Brian told the origins of his realizations about the "small here" versus the "big here" and the "short now" versus the "long now." He noted that the Big Here is pretty well popularized now, with exotic restaurants everywhere, "world" music, globalization, and routine photos of the whole earth. Instant world news and the internet has led to increased empathy worldwide.
But empathy in space has not been matched by empathy in time. If anything, empathy for people to come has decreased. We seem trapped in the Short Now. The present generation enjoys the greatest power in history, but it appears to have the shortest vision in history. That combination is lethal.
Danny Hillis proposed that there’s a bug in our thinking about these matters—-about long-term responsibility. We need to figure out what the bug is and how to fix it. We’re still in an early, fumbling phase of doing that, like the period before the Royal Society in 18th-century England began to figure out science.
Tim O’Reilly gave an example of the kind of precept that can emerge from taking the longer-term seriously. These days shoppers are often checking out goods (trying on clothes, etc.) in regular retail stores but then going online to buy the same goods at some killer discount price. Convenient for the shopper, terrible for the shops, who are going out of business, hurting communities in the process. The aggregate of lots of local, short-term advantage-taking is large-scale, long-term harm. Hence Tim’s proposed precept, now spreading on the internet: "Buy where you shop." Ie. When you shop online, buy there. When you shop in shops, buy there. Four simple words that serve as a reminder to head off accumulative harm.
Leighton Read observed that imagining the future is an acquired skill, and comes in stages. An infant can’t imagine the next bottle, or plan for it. A teenager can at most imagine the next six months, and only on a good day; on a rowdy Saturday night, Sunday morning is too remote to grasp. For us adults the distant future is still unimaginable. One thing that Leighton likes about the 10,000-year Clock project is that it lets you imagine a particular part of the very remote future—-the Clock ticking away in its mountain—-and then you can widen your scope from there, to include climate change over centuries, for example.
Alexander Rose suggested that we should collect examples where a small effort in the present pays off huge in the long term. Tim O’Reilly would like to see us develop a taxonomy of such practices.
Sophisticated societies from time to time collapse utterly, often leaving traces of a civilization that was at a proud peak just before the fall. Other societies facing the same dangers figure out how to adapt around them, recover, and go on to further centuries of success. Tonight the author of Collapse examines the differences between them…
To an overflow house (our apologies to those who couldn’t make it in!), Jared Diamond articulately spelled out how his best-selling book, Collapse, took shape.
At first it was going to be a book of 18 chapters chronicling 18 collapses of once-powerful societies— the Mayans with the most advanced culture in the Americas, the Anasazi who built six-story skyscrapers at Chaco, the Norse who occupied Greenland for 500 years. But he wanted to contrast those with success stories like Tokugawa-era Japan, which wholly reversed its lethal deforestation, and Iceland, which learned to finesse a highly fragile and subtle environment.
Diamond also wanted to study modern situations with clear connections to the ancient collapses. Rwanda losing millions in warfare caused by ecological overpressure. China— “because of its size, China’s problems are the world’s problems.” Australia, with its ambitions to overcome a horrible environmental history. And Diamond’s beloved Montana, so seemingly pristine, so self-endangered on multiple fronts.
He elaborated a bit on his book’s account of the Easter Island collapse, where a society that could build 80-ton statues 33 feet high and drag them 12 miles, and who could navigate the Pacific Ocean to and from the most remote islands in the world, could also cut down their rich rain forest and doom themselves utterly. With no trees left for fishing canoes, the Easter Islanders turned to devouring each other. The appropriate insult to madden a member of a rival clan was, “The flesh of your mother sticks between my teeth!” The population fell by 90% in a few years, and neither the society nor the island ecology have recovered in the 300 years since.
Diamond reported that his students at UCLA tried to imagine how the guy who cut down the LAST tree in 1680 justified his actions. What did he say? Their candidate quotes: “Fear not. Our advancing technology will solve this problem.” “This is MY tree, MY property! I can do what I want with it.” “Your environmentalist concerns are exaggerated. We need more research.” “Just have faith. God will provide.”
The question everyone asks, Diamond said, is, How can people be so dumb? It’s a crucial question, with a complex answer. He said that sometimes it’s a failure to perceive a problem, especially if it comes on very slowly, like climate change. Often it’s a matter of conflicting interests with no resolution at a higher level than the interests— warring clans, greedy industries. Or there may be a failure to examine and understand the past.
Overall, it’s a failure to think long term. That itself has many causes. One common one is that elites become insulated from the consequences of their actions. Thus the Mayan kings could ignore the soil erosion that was destroying their crops. Thus the American wealthy these days can enjoy private security, private education, and private retirement money. Thus America itself can act like a gated community in relation to the rest of the world, imagining that events in remote Somalia or Afghanistan have nothing to do with us. Isolation, Diamond declared, is never a solution to long-term problems.
I’ll add two items to what Diamond said in his talk. One good sharp question came from Mark Hertzgaard, who asked the speaker if he agreed “with Stewart Brand’s view that the threat of climate change justifies adopting more nuclear power.” To my surprise, Diamond said that he was persuaded by last year’s “Bipartisan Strategy to Meet America’s Energy Challenges” to treat nuclear as one important way to reduce the production of greenhouse gases. (In the commission’s report, the environmentalist co-chair John Holdren wrote: “”Given the risks from climate change and the challenges that face all of the low-carbon and no-carbon supply options, it would be imprudent in the extreme not to try to keep the nuclear option open.”)
While I was driving Jared Diamond back to the El Drisco hotel, we got talking about how to separate the good actors from the bad actors among corporations. He said that third-party validation was absolutely essential. For instance, he studied the exemplary environmental behavior of Chevron in Papua New Guinea and reported on it in “Discover” magazine. As a result of that favorable report, validated by the World Wildlife Fund (where Diamond is a director), Chevron was able to land an immensely valuable contract with Norway, who was demanding environmentally responsible behavior from any oil company it would deal with.
The new term taken seriously in oil and mining corporations, Diamond said, is “social license to operate.” A company must earn that from the public in order to stay in business.
And we the public must do our vigilant part so that “social license” means something.
Cory Doctorow is a sci-fi author, hero of the open source and creative commons movements, and co-founder of boingboing.net.
In this exclusive event, Cory travels to Vivid Sydney from London to deliver a keynote on new challenges and frontiers for creators and consumers – asking us to question who we give our rights to - and how creators can best take advantage of a more connected world.
Following his keynote address, Cory joins anthropologist and Intel fellow Genevieve Bell, for a conversation exploring the future of culture, behaviour and technology, and why sharing and copying matters to makers.
Noah Richler traces the development of storytelling from the earliest creation myths through to today’s online gaming and the recording of our personal lives by way of social media.
Join Aleks Krotoski as she explores love in the digital world. Can love be love when we’re deprived of the sensory connections of face-to-face interaction?
Journalist Andrew Blum explains what and where the Internet is physically. His book Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet tells the story of the Internet’s physical infrastructure and chronicles the its development, explains how it works, and takes an in-depth look inside its hidden monuments.
Edward O. Wilson has revolutionized science and inspired the public more often than any other living biologist. Now he is blending his pioneer work on ants with a new perspective on human development to propose a radical reframing of how evolution works.
First the social insects ruled, from 60 million years ago. Then a species of social mammals took over, from 10 thousand years ago. Both sets of “eusocial” animals mastered the supremely delicate art of encouraging altruism, so that individuals in the groups would act as if they value the goal of the group over their own goals. They would specialize for the group and die for the group. In recent decades the idea of “kin selection” seemed to explain how such an astonishing phenomenon could evolve. Wilson replaces kin selection with “multi-level selection,” which incorporates both individual selection (long well understood) and group selection (long considered taboo). Every human and every human society has to learn how to manage adroitly the perpetual ambiguity and conflict between individual needs and group needs. What I need is never the same as what we need.
E. O. Wilson’s current book is The Social Conquest of Earth. His previous works include The Superorganism; The Future of Life; Consilience; Biophilia; Sociobiology; and The Insect Societies.
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