The Sense of Style: Psycholinguist Steven Pinker on the Art and Science of Beautiful Writing | Brain Pickings

The Sense of Style: Psycholinguist Steven Pinker on the Art and Science of Beautiful Writing | Brain Pickings.

“Every generation believes that the kids today are degrading the language and taking civilization down with it.”

“Man has an instinctive tendency to speak, as we see in the babble of our young children,” Charles Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man, “whereas no child has an instinctive tendency to bake, brew, or write.” While baking and brewing undoubtedly have their place in culture, it is writing that has emerged as the defining record of our civilization — our most enduring and expansive catalog of thought, of discourse, of human imagination. And yet our insatiable hunger for advice on writing suggests that it remains an unnatural act — even legendary Mad Man David Ogilvy knew this when he penned his ten commandments of writing a century after Darwin, prefacing them with this simple statement: “Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well.”

But even as we master this rather unnatural human application, the difference between good writing and great writing is vast, bridged only by the miraculous mastery of style. “Style is the physiognomy of the mind,” wrote Schopenhauer. “It is a more reliable key to character than the physiognomy of the body.”

Nearly a century after Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style — a book of such legendary status that it has even germinated a rap — Harvard’s Steven Pinker steps in to alleviate Darwin’s lament with The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (public library).

Pinker writes in the prologue:

I like to read style manuals for another reason, the one that sends botanists to the garden and chemists to the kitchen: it’s a practical application of our science. I am a psycholinguist and a cognitive scientist, and what is style, after all, but the effective use of words to engage the human mind? It’s all the more captivating to someone who seeks to explain these fields to a wide readership. I think about how language works so that I can best explain how language works.

Indeed, Pinker — arguably today’s most prominent and prolific psycholinguist — approaches the question of style not only as an aesthete who cherishes the written word, but also as a scientist, applying the findings of his field to debunking a number of longstanding, blindly followed dogmas about writing:

We now know that telling writers to avoid the passive is bad advice. Linguistic research has shown that the passive construction has a number of indispensable functions because of the way it engages a reader’s attention and memory. A skilled writer should know what those functions are and push back against copy editors who, under the influence of grammatically naïve style guides, blue-pencil every passive construction they spot into an active one.

Pinker’s broader point echoes the caveat John Steinbeck issued alongside his six rules of writing, as well as Virginia Woolf’s admonition about honoring the aliveness of language — an assurance that language is not a set of static doctrines but a dynamic interaction between writer and reader, speaker and listener, and as such renders any rigid rules limiting and unnecessary:

Although some of the rules can make prose better, many of them make it worse, and writers are better off flouting them. The rules often mash together issues of grammatical correctness, logical coherence, formal style, and standard dialect, but a skilled writer needs to keep them straight. And the orthodox stylebooks are ill equipped to deal with an inescapable fact about language: it changes over time. Language is not a protocol legislated by an authority but rather a wiki that pools the contributions of millions of writers and speakers, who ceaselessly bend the language to their needs and who inexorably age, die, and get replaced by their children, who adapt the language in their turn.

To that, Pinker adds a gladdening aside about “the illusion of the good old days” and writes:

Every generation believes that the kids today are degrading the language and taking civilization down with it.

[...]

You remember those days, don’t you? Back in the 1980s, when teenagers spoke in fluent paragraphs, bureaucrats wrote in plain English, and every academic paper was a masterpiece in the art of the essay? (Or was it the 1970s?) The problem with the Internet-is-making-us-illiterate theory, of course, is that bad prose has burdened readers in every era.

His own intention, then, is to “distinguish the rules that enhance clarity, grace, and emotional resonance from those that are based on myths and misunderstandings” and to supplant “dogma about usage with reason and evidence,” so that we can learn to apply these insights mindfully rather than robotically and begin to counter the mindless momentum of language George Orwell lamented. He enumerates the three main reasons style matters, and matters today:

First, it ensures that writers will get their messages across, sparing readers from squandering their precious moments on earth deciphering opaque prose…

Second, style earns trust. If readers can see that a writer cares about consistency and accuracy in her prose, they will be reassured that the writer cares about those virtues in conduct they cannot see as easily…

Style, not least, adds beauty to the world. To a literate reader, a crisp sentence, an arresting metaphor, a witty aside, an elegant turn of phrase are among life’s greatest pleasures… This thoroughly impractical virtue of good writing is where the practical effort of mastering good writing must begin.

Contrary to Oscar Wilde’s famous quip that “nothing that is worth knowing can be taught,” Pinker believes that one can learn to write beautifully — by instruction, yes, but mostly by absorption of example. Like Susan Sontag, who became a writer by becoming a reader, and like David Foster Wallace, who urged his writing students to read a lot and read attentively, Pinker advocates for the immeasurable value of reading in learning to write:

Good writers are avid readers. They have absorbed a vast inventory of words, idioms, constructions, tropes, and rhetorical tricks, and with them a sensitivity to how they mesh and how they clash… The starting point for becoming a good writer is to be a good reader. Writers acquire their technique by spotting, savoring, and reverse-engineering examples of good prose.

He offers some words of assurance to those entering the craft:

An aspiring writer could be forgiven for thinking that learning to write is like negotiating an obstacle course in boot camp, with a sergeant barking at you for every errant footfall. Why not think of it instead as a form of pleasurable mastery, like cooking or photography? Perfecting the craft is a lifelong calling, and mistakes are part of the game. Though the quest for improvement may be informed by lessons and honed by practice, it must first be kindled by a delight in the best work of the masters and a desire to approach their excellence.

A significant part of that excellence, Pinker suggests, is learning to resist the siren call of clichés:

Every writer faces the challenge of finding a superlative in the English word-hoard that has not been inflated by hyperbole and overuse… Good writing can flip the way the world is perceived, like the silhouette in psychology textbooks which oscillates between a goblet and two faces.

In championing the importance of honoring such a dedication to finding the perfect word, Pinker offers some witty and wise advice on the best use of the dictionary:

Readers who want to become writers should read with a dictionary at hand (several are available as smartphone apps), and writers should not hesitate to send their readers there if the word is dead-on in meaning, evocative in sound, and not so obscure that the reader will never see it again. (You can probably do without maieutic, propaedeutic, and subdoxastic.) I write with a thesaurus, mindful of the advice I once read in a bicycle repair manual on how to squeeze a dent out of a rim with Vise-Grip pliers: “Do not get carried away with the destructive potential of this tool.”

Donning his psycholinguist hat, Pinker considers the difference between speaking and writing, and what that reveals about the secret of style:

Speaking and writing involve very different kinds of human relationship, and only the one associated with speech comes naturally to us. Spoken conversation is instinctive because social interaction is instinctive: we speak to those with whom we are on speaking terms.

[...]

We enjoy none of this give-and-take when we cast our bread upon the waters by sending a written missive out into the world. The recipients are invisible and inscrutable, and we have to get through to them without knowing much about them or seeing their reactions. At the time that we write, the reader exists only in our imaginations. Writing is above all an act of pretense. We have to visualize ourselves in some kind of conversation, or correspondence, or oration, or soliloquy, and put words into the mouth of the little avatar who represents us in this simulated world.

The key to good style, far more than obeying any list of commandments, is to have a clear conception of the make-believe world in which you’re pretending to communicate.

The Sense of Style is not only a thoughtful and illuminating guide to the grace of the written word, but also an elegant paragon of its own advice and thus an immeasurably pleasurable read. Complement it with some first-hand wisdom on the art and craft of language from celebrated authors, including Elmore Leonard’s ten tips on writing, Neil Gaiman’s eight pointers, Nietzsche’s ten rules, Walter Benjamin’s thirteen doctrines, Henry Miller’s eleven commandments, and Kurt Vonnegut’s eight tips for writing with style, Zadie Smith on the two psychologies for writing, and Vladimir Nabokov on the three qualities of a great storyteller.

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Posted in Reading, Writing

BREAKING BAD SCENE ANALYSIS

Originally posted on JOANA DIAS:

Narrative Structure

NARRATIVESTRUCTURE

Narrative Analysis

Breaking Bad is an American crime drama television series created and produced by Vince Gilligan; other genres incorporated into the series include action, dark/ironic comedy, thriller a bit of adventure I’d say, and it also includes some western aspects – i.e. the typical bad guys versus good guys, deserted locations, cowboy styled hat which Walt later on in the series decides to wear (when he has eventually ‘Broken bad’ – which signifies a change in character), etc. The series is mainly made up out of one main story – Walter White’s story. Walter white is a 50 year old male; he is a father, husband as well as a science teacher specialising in chemistry in his sons (Walter Juniors) high school. He is supposedly – up to then – leading a relatively normal life, his body language and expressions imply that it is also a very…

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Dream of a Man, or a Butterfly…

Originally posted on Photo Nature Blog:

Butterfly_Parallel_Universe

Copyright Jeffrey Foltice

“Once Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a fluttering butterfly. What fun he had, doing as he pleased! He did not know he was Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and found himself to be Zhou. He did not know whether Zhou had dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly had dreamed he was Zhou. Between Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction. This is what is meant by the transformation of things,”  — Zhuangzi (Chinese philosopher c. 369 BC – c. 286 BC)

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Citizenfour review – gripping Snowden documentary offers portrait of power, paranoia and one remarkable man | Film | The Guardian

Citizenfour review – gripping Snowden documentary offers portrait of power, paranoia and one remarkable man | Film | The Guardian.

Citizenfour review – gripping Snowden documentary offers portrait of power, paranoia and one remarkable man

Laura Poitras’s film shows the first extensive interviews with Edward Snowden after he blew the whistle on NSA and government intrusion
5 out of 5
Citizenfour aka Edward Snowden. Photograph: The Guardian/EPA
Calm and reasonable … Citizenfour aka Edward Snowden. Photograph: The Guardian/EPA

This documentary is about that very remarkable man, the former NSA intelligence analyst and whistleblower Edward Snowden, shown here speaking out personally for the first time about all the staggering things governments are doing to our privacy.

Fundamentally, privacy is being abolished – not eroded, not diminished, not encroached upon, but abolished. And being constructed in its place is a colossal digital new Stasi, driven by a creepy intoxication with what is now technically possible, combined with politicians’ age-old infatuation with bullying, snooping and creating mountains of bureaucratic prestige for themselves at the expense of the snooped-upon taxpayer.

Yet in spite of the evidence put in the public domain about this – due to Snowden’s considerable courage – there has been a bafflingly tepid response from the libertarian right, who have let themselves be bamboozled by the “terrorism” argument. There’s also been a worrying placidity from some progressive opinion-formers who appear to assume that social media means we have surrendered our right to privacy. But we haven’t.

Watch a video review of Citizenfour

Laura Poitras’s film shows the first extensive interviews with Edward Snowden, conducted in his hotel room in Hong Kong when he first revealed his information to reporter Glenn Greenwald: Snowden contacted him under the handle Citizenfour. Greenwald wrote about it for Salon, in his book No Place to Hide and for this newspaper. Snowden risked his neck, revealing that despite official statements to the contrary, the US and the UK were widely using their ability to eavesdrop upon every phone call, every email, every internet search, every keystroke. The pre-emptive mining of data has gone beyond suspicion of terrorist activity. As Snowden says: “We are building the biggest weapon for oppression in the history of mankind,” and a martial law for intercepting telecommunication is being created by stealth. This is despite the bland denials of every official up to and including President Obama, whose supercilious claim to have been investigating the issue before the Snowden revelations has been brutally exposed by this film.

Snowden himself seems notably calm and reasonable. Where Julian Assange is mercurial, Snowden is geeky and imperturbable, with a laid-back voice that sounds like that of Seth Rogen. Pressure that would have caused anyone else to crack seems to have have no real effect on Snowden, and he appears unemotional even as he reveals how he had to leave his partner, Lindsay Mills, in the dark. (She is now living with him in Russia, where he is in exile, a country whose own record on civil liberties provide a scalding irony.)

There are moments of white-knuckle paranoia. The interview is interrupted by a continuous alarm bell; Snowden calls down to reception, who tell him it’s a routine fire drill. Snowden is satisfied by the explanation, but disconnects the phone in case it is bugged. When he types key passwords into his laptop he covers his head and arms in a bizarre shroud, like an old-fashioned photographer, so he can’t be filmed. This is what he calls his “magic mantle of power”. It looks absurd, but it isn’t precisely melodramatic, and Snowden seems as if he both knows what he is doing and appreciates the absurdity of it all.

Meanwhile, governmental forces are ranged against him – and against ordinary citizens making a stand against snooping. Poitras shows us a scene from a US court case in which AT&T phone customers took action against having their affairs pried into. A sycophantic, bow-tied lawyer for the government tries to suggest that a court is not the proper place to discuss the matter. When a plain-speaking judge rebuked this weasel, I felt like cheering.

So what else can be done? There is a funny moment when Citizenfour shows how German chancellor Angela Merkel is far from amused at having her mobile phone conversations listened to by the NSA. It was an exquisite moment of diplomatic froideur and possibly did more to make Obama take this seriously than anything else.

Now activists are warning of “linkability”. In US cities, subway commuters are being asked to put their transit pass accounts on their actual credit cards. One card fits all, and also gives officialdom access to a whole lot more of your information. British cities are being encouraged to do the same thing with “contactless” cards. Maybe we all need to think again. Citizenfour is a gripping record of how our rulers are addicted to gaining more and more power and control over us – if we let them.

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‘True Detective’ Finale Review: Close to Perfection – The Daily Beast

‘True Detective’ Finale Review: Close to Perfection – The Daily Beast.

True Detective

Young True Detective

Good and Evil

03.10.14

‘True Detective’ Finale Review: Close to Perfection

Sunday’s finale of ‘True Detective’ was the perfect conclusion to a series that has come close to perfection. To stick around any longer would have broken the spell.
On Sunday night, the first season of HBO’s deep, dark crime drama True Detective came to a close. It wasn’t your average season finale. Usually with a show you love—Mad Men, Game of Thrones, whatever—you know your favorite characters will be returning in a year or two. Their narrative will continue. But True Detective is different. From the start, creator Nic Pizzolatto designed it as an anthology series. One story per season. Beginning, middle, and end.This means that, as of Sunday night, the tale of Rust Cohle, Marty Hart, and the 17-year search for the man who murdered Dora Lange is officially over. The Yellow King is a thing of the past. Carcosa is no more. And Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson won’t be coming back. The second season of True Detective will tell a different story—with different characters, different actors, and a different setting.

And I, for one, couldn’t be happier.

I thought Sunday’s finale (“Form and Void”) was the perfect conclusion to a series that has come as close to perfection over the course of its eight all-too-brief episodes as any I can remember. To stick around any longer—as much as I adore Rust and Marty and the whole Carcosa mystery—would have broken the spell. And to tie things up in any other way would have betrayed what the first season of True Detective was all about.

Before I explain why, let’s review what happened in “Form and Void.”

Or rather, let’s review what didn’t happen. (Warning: stop reading now if you haven’t seen the finale yet. The rest of this review will consist of nothing but spoilers.) We didn’t meet a tentacled Yellow King from another dimension. We didn’t step through some sort of mystical portal and enter the Lovecraftian land of Carcosa. We didn’t reenact the Vietnam War or discover that Marty’s father-in-law had raped Marty’s daughter. We didn’t find out that Marty was really the killer, or that Rust was really the killer, or that the guy at the banh mi place was really the killer. We didn’t unravel a “five horsemen” conspiracy that went all the way to the top—to Sen. Eddie Tuttle. We didn’t fulfill the Internet’s wildest expectations.

Instead, we got exactly the finale that Pizzolatto had promised us all along: no alarms, no surprises—for the first three-quarters of the episode, at least. “I cannot think of anything more insulting as an audience than to go through eight weeks, eight hours with these people, and then to be told it was a lie—that what you were seeing wasn’t really what was happening,” he told me earlier this year. “The show’s not trying to outsmart you.”

And so Marty, on a hunch, searched through the canvassing photos that he and Rust had snapped in 1995 while investigating the Lange murder near Erath. He stumbled on a shot of a freshly painted green house. “Why green ears?” he asked his partner, referring to the police sketch of the so-called “spaghetti monster” who had chased a young girl through the woods decades back. “Maybe [the killer] painted that house,” Marty suggested. Before long, Rust and Marty had dug up the contractor’s name— Childress and Son. That led them to the Childress homestead, a decaying white clapboard building in the middle of the Louisiana swamp, which in turn led them to Errol Childress: the lawnmower man, the illicit grandson of Sam Tuttle, the man with the scars, the spaghetti monster, the killer.

Childress sure was creepy: married to his half-sister, who was apparently raped by his grandfather; surrounded by decrepit dolls; in the habit of referring to sex as “making flowers”; prone to adopting a James Mason accent for no discernible reason. Childress even kept his dead father Billy bound up and rotting in a nearby shack, Psycho-style. But after leading Rust into some sort of a brick building clearly designed by the same twig-loving decorator who had created all those devilcatchers, the spaghetti monster finally met his match. Rust was stabbed. Marty was hatcheted. Childress was shot in the head.

In short, our detectives got their man.

And that’s it. That’s all that “happened,” plot-wise, in “Form and Void.” But a lot more was going on—especially in the last 15 minutes of the episode.

I’m sure that the web will spend most of this week obsessing over the more supernatural elements of Sunday’s finale. What did the drawings on the side of Childress’s shack—an ascending figure with antlers surrounded by black stars and flowers—really mean? Why did Childress tell Rust to “take off [his] mask”? And what the heck did Rust see in the domed “Carcosa” throne room before Childress leapt from the shadows and stabbed him? Was it some sort of astronomical hallucination? Or was he “mainlining the secret truth of the universe” again?

But as enjoyable as this sort of literary trainspotting can be, I also consider it window dressing. The true meaning of True Detective doesn’t have all that much to do with Robert Chambers or the stories he wrote way back in 1895. Instead, the true meaning of True Detective is about the power of storytelling itself.

I’ve advanced this theory before. But the final moments of “Form and Void”—the conversation between Rust and Marty outside the hospital where they’ve been recuperating after their bloody encounter with Childress—made the show’s intentions clearer than ever.

In the earliest episodes of True Detective, Pizzolatto established a clear dichotomy. On the one hand, there’s investigation—storytelling as a search for the truth. On the other hand, there’s religion—storytelling as an escape from the truth.

It’s no accident, for instance, that the religious task force led by the Rev. Billy Lee Tuttle swoops in during Episode 2 and tries to stymie Rust and Marty’s investigation (as I wrote last week). It’s no accident that when the case subsides, Marty joins Promise Keepers. It’s no accident that before she died, Dora Lange told her friends that she had been “going to church.” And finally it’s no accident, as we learned in Episode 7, that Tuttle’s Christian charter schools were feeders—and Tuttle’s ministry a cover story—for the pagan Yellow King-Carcosa cult that seems to be some sort of sadistic Tuttle family tradition.

Pizzolatto could have made the Tuttles a clan of psychopathic murderers. He didn’t. He made them a clan of psychopathic murderers who subscribe to a very specific theology: a theology that alludes, crucially, to The King in Yellow—an external narrative that is supposed to create insanity, or as Pizzolatto “prefer[s]” to put it, “deranged enlightenment,” which sounds a lot like a skeptic’s view of religion as a whole. In other words, both Christianity and “Carcosa” are stories. Stories people tell themselves to escape reality. Stories that “violate every law of the universe” (as Rust once put it).

Of course Christianity and the Carcosa cult aren’t the same thing. But take your “fairy tales” too far, Pizzolatto seems to be arguing, and you can wind up in some pretty sick places.

There is, however, an antidote.

Throughout True Detective, Pizzolatto has linked blindness—an unseeing state—to the victims of the Carcosa cult. Dora Lange was wearing a blindfold when she was discovered in a prayer position at the base of that tree. (““In order to effectively pray you’re going to have to ignore some very basic facts about the world,” Pizzolatto once told me. “In order to mean it.”) Marie Fontenot was wearing a blindfold on the gruesome videotape that Rust found in Billy Lee Tuttle’s safe. And even Errol Childress chimed in during Sunday’s finale. “It’s been weeks since I left my mark,” he said in his jaunty British accent. “Would that they had eyes to see.”

But when Rust and Marty once again partner up in Episode 7—when they once again became true detectives, or storytellers in search of the truth—Rust delivers a line that pits what they do against what storytellers like Errol Childress do.

“I won’t avert my eyes,” Rust says. “Not again.”

On True Detective, investigation—”looking for narrative [and] build[ing] a story, day after day,” in Marty’s words—is how you “see the light.” In the season’s final scene, Marty and Rust leave the hospital. They still bicker like brothers, but their bond is strong. In a rare moment of vulnerability, Rust tells Marty he “shouldn’t be here.” He says that when he was unconscious, he could sense “[his] definitions fading” in “the darkness”; he felt “nothing but” his dead daughter’s “love.” He wanted to let go, but then he woke up. He begins to weep.

Marty puts a hand on his partner’s shoulder and tries to comfort him. “Hey,” he says. “Didn’t you tell me one time … you used to make up stories about the stars?”

“Yeah, I was in Alaska,” Rust says. “I never watched a TV ’til I was 17. Wasn’t much to do there. So I’d look up at the stars and make up stories.”

Rust pauses for a moment. “I tell you, Marty,” he finally says. “I been in that room, looking out those windows, just thinking. It’s just one story. The oldest.”

“What’s that?” Marty asks.

“Light versus dark,” Rust says.

And that’s the power of storytelling. Sure, you can tell stories about black stars. You can even choose to believe them. But you can also tell stories, like Rust and Marty, that shed light on things. The great achievement of Season 1 of True Detective is that Pizzolatto, McConaughey, Harrelson, and director Cary Fukunaga have created a show about a subject this serious—the ways that narrative itself can generate both good and evil—that is also, somehow, a grand, intoxicating entertainment: brilliantly acted, beautifully directed, and never, ever dull.

Eventually, Marty responds. “I know we ain’t in Alaska,” he says. “But it appears to me the dark has a lot more territory.”

At first, Rust agrees. As it says in Genesis 1:2, “the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” But then he reconsiders—and this is Pizzolatto’s only twist. In the last seconds of the season, the nihilism and misanthropy that have characterized Rust’s worldview soften, however briefly, as he realizes that maybe he is here for a reason.

“You’re looking at it wrong,” Rust mutters. “The sky thing.”

“How’s that?” Marty replies.

“Well, once there was only dark,” Rust says. “You ask me, the light’s winning.”

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Dave Eggers’ The Circle: a book for our times…

Originally posted on Paul Bernal's Blog:

I was introduced to Dave Eggers’ novel, The Circle, by Professor Andrew Murray – one of the pre-eminent scholars in IT Law in the UK, and also on of my PhD supervisors. I know I’m very late to this game – the book came out in 2013, and all the cool people will already have read it or reviewed it, but in this case I think it’s worth it. And the fact that someone like Andrew Murray would recommend it should give pause for thought: this isn’t just an entertaining piece of science fiction, it’s a book that really makes you think. It’s not just a dystopian vision of the future, it’s one that is far, far closer to reality than almost any I’ve read – and dystopian novels and films are pretty much my favourite genre.

It’s a book that reminded me why, unlike most of my schoolmates, I…

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Shoshan Zuboff on “Big Data” as Surveillance Capitalism

Shoshan Zuboff on “Big Data” as Surveillance Capitalism.

A Digital Declaration

If the digital future is to be our home, then it is we who must make it so. Against the Surveillance Capitalism of „Big Data“.

15.09.2014, von Shoshana Zuboff

© Peter Adamik

I.  HOME

In the cove below our window a pair of loons returns each  spring from their distant travels. For many months we are lulled to sleep by their cries of homecoming, renewal, and protection. Green turtles hatch on the beach and go down to the sea where they travel thousands of miles for a decade or two before they retrace the path to that patch of beach and lay their eggs.

This theme of “nostos”, finding home, is at the root of all things human too. We  yearn for the place in which life has been known to flourish. Humans can choose the form of home , but it is always where we know and where we are known; where we love and are beloved. Home is voice and  sanctuary— part freedom, part solace.

(Link to German version)

When we look  to the digital future  there is one anxiety from which all others derive: What kind of home will it be?  Will we be masters in a community of masters,  or some-thing else—guests, fugitives, or perhaps  unwitting slaves subdued by  interests beyond our influence or understanding?  If the digital future is to be our home, then it is we who must make it so.

There are three points about this prospect that I want to explore. First, that we are at the very beginning of this journey.  Second, that the future is made in specific ways. If we understand these better, then perhaps we can step into the river more effectively and shape it to good purpose.  Third, that you, your colleagues and their colleagues, have a pivotal role, a  privilege of responsibility in this time of contest.

II. THE BEGINNING

When it comes to „big data“ and the digital future, we are at the very beginning. Despite the rapid pace of connection and the oceans of data it generates, our societies have yet to determine how all this will be used, to what purpose, and who decides.  The big tech companies want us to believe that the future will roll out according to their visions and the so-called  “objective requirements” of technological development as a driver of economic growth in a free market.  Their scenario is straight from the playbook of the neoliberal theorist Frederich Hayek—what he called a self -determining “extended order” that individuals cannot understand but to which they must submit.

I have suggested that the iPod is to the Internet era what the Model T was to the mass production era.  But what defines an era is far more than its technology.  For example, the mass production era was only partially about machines. First, mass production required employees and consumers. People mattered.  Second, the era was shaped by the gradual development of legislative, legal, and social institutions to amplify capitalism’s pro-social dynamics and tame its excesses.  This is what Karl Polanyi called the double movement.

Our new era will be ultimately be shaped by the ideas around which we mobilize for new market forms and new institutions.  Life in 2050 will depend on developments like these that have not yet occurred, and we will look back to see this time, our time, as the beginning.

III. HOW THE FUTURE IS MADE

How is the future made?  The philosopher John Searle answers this question in his re-markable book Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization. I want to share a couple of his ideas— just enough to provide us with a few key tools.

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Posted in Big Data, Privacy, Social Media, Surveillance
Watson Wolf

Watson Wolf

It's all learning and teaching to me!!! I am a German tutor for German, English and French, who loves tutoring person to person!!! In addition I love writing, sports, social media and the Greek island Crete, my second home!!!

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