“Anxiety, this research shows, uniquely interferes with ‘perspective-taking’ – that is, people’s capacity to put themselves in others’ shoes.The idea that anxiety impairs perspective-taking is important because it is just this sort of nervousness that crops up when an empathic connection is most sorely needed.”
“Each day you accumulate fresh memories—kissing new people, acquiring different phone numbers and (possibly) competing in pi-memorizing championships (we would root for you). With all those new adventures stacking up, you might start worrying that your brain is growing full. But, wait—is that how it works? Can your brain run out of space, like a hard drive? It depends on what kind of memory you’re talking about.”
“Baby boomers pursue perpetual youth into retirement. Gen-Xers hold fast to their skateboards, their Pixies T-shirts and their Beastie Boys CDs. Nobody wants to be an adult anymore, and every so often someone writes an article blaming Hollywood, attachment parenting, global capitalism or the welfare state for this catastrophe.”
“Ever since the Enlightenment, Western societies have been obsessed with autonomy, and in the past few hundred years we have put autonomy at the center of our lives, economically, politically, and technologically … Unfortunately, we’ve taken things too far: we’re now addicted to liberation, and we regard any situation – a movie, a conversation, a one-block walk down a city street – as a kind of prison. Distraction is a way of asserting control; it’s autonomy run amok.”
“I’m here to tell you that they can, and are. … They aren’t supposed to make someone remark: ‘That’s beautiful.’ They’re meant to make someone realise that they’ve only been looking at one side of a thing.” Michael Erard (“For five years I worked full-time as a metaphor designer at the FrameWorks Institute, a think tank in Washington, DC … I continue to shape and test metaphors for private-sector clients and others”) explains how it’s done.
Back in 1971, a group of Stanford students participated in a role-playing experiment, with some taking the role of guards in a make-believe prison and others playing inmates. The latter became so passive, and the former so abusive, that the experiment was called off halfway through. Most people concluded that the project demonstrated the darker sides of human nature, but Maria Konnikova suggests that the results were more about institutions and rules.
A longitudinal study “found positive outcomes for families that used media such as TV, movies and the Internet ‘as a tool — to laugh together, to become informed, to connect, to spark discussion.’ Such shared activities led to greater levels of personal disclosure for adolescent boys, more positive family functioning for adolescent girls and greater parental involvement for both.”
“Once we buy into a specific apparatus, it’s awfully hard to leave it. Your cultural artifact is locked within that system, constrained by its programming. Notice how another user’s Instagram photo can’t be resized, emailed, or downloaded to your hard drive. It can’t exist within any other ecosystem than Instagram’s.”
“In this sense, a philosopher, academic, or any kind of writer is the worst person to ask about how to live a fulfilling life. Their obligation to themselves is not to resolve their own problems, but to plumb the depths of their own discontent, seeking after a truth in unhappiness. It is not likely that anything that can be articulated in an intellectually honest essay can bestow a fulfilling life on you.”
“The best predictor of good health was the quality of the social contact they had with others. The only thing that came close was giving up smoking. It came way above body weight, whether they were obese or not, what medication they were on or treatments they had had, whatever therapy they had had, the exercise they took or alcohol they consumed. What was a much bigger factor in their recoveries was the size and vibrancy of their social network.”
“Human translators, today, have virtually nothing to do with the work being done in machine translation. A majority of the leading figures in machine translation have little to no background in linguistics, much less in foreign languages or literatures. Instead, virtually all of them are computer scientists. Their relationship with language is mediated via arm’s-length protective gloves through plate-glass walls.”
“It is sad that the modern attack on truth started in the academy — in the humanities, where the stakes may have initially seemed low in holding that there are multiple ways to read a text or that one cannot understand a book without taking account of the political beliefs of its author. That disrespect, however, has metastasized into outrageous claims about the natural sciences.”
“The concept of a coach is slippery. Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. They’re not your boss—in professional tennis, golf, and skating, the athlete hires and fires the coach—but they can be bossy. They don’t even have to be good at the sport. The famous Olympic gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi couldn’t do a split if his life depended on it. Mainly, they observe, they judge, and they guide.”
“As machines become more humanlike, aren’t we humans meeting them halfway? Are computers not simply an extension of our brains? Our inventions may better resemble humans, but we are becoming more machine-like in the process. Are we no longer a natural species, or are we simply a part of nature that has evolved to become less ‘natural’?”
“The designers of Turkopticon and its cousins draw attention to common problems, hoping to influence longer-term change on a complex issue. In time, the idea goes, requesters on Mechanical Turk might change their treatment of workers, Amazon might change its policies and software, or regulators might set new rules for digital labor. This is an approach with a long history in an area that might seem unlikely: the conservation movement.”
“Dust is everywhere. We contribute to its multiplication through our polluting industries, by wearing clothes and using things around us, and in the course of merely living – shedding skin cells, hair, and other byproducts of our life. But we also are it. Both the Bible and William Shakespeare would have us believe as much.”
“Our past choices in all areas can be analysed to predict future choices. Our taste in music, movies, books, news articles and clothes can be analysed – but also our sexual proclivities, political alliances and moral decisions. Those can be deduced and used to make recommendations. Everything we think we are, it seems, can be predicted, the probabilities sifted – and the chances are that what we do will fall inside the bell curve of predicted behaviour. Free will? Are you kidding?”
“Because of the end of Communism, which was deeply rooted among French intellectuals, the fading of structuralism, and anxiety about France’s identity in a globalised world, the French have come to doubt themselves and their intellectual destiny. This can be seen in the decline of France’s intellectual life and in its fading intellectual influence in the world.”
“Blocks and neighborhoods aren’t concrete concepts that mean the same thing to everyone, unlike, say, things like ‘apple’ or ‘sky.’ Points of reference shift depending on the person that’s using that reference, so blocks/neighborhoods are more like alternate realities laid atop one another, like plastic sheets on an overhead projector. There’s even a phrase for the study of this murky concept: mental maps. They can help us understand why some neighborhoods thrive, others die, and how changes are made.”
For the past few years, scientists have been telling us that there’s not really any such thing as multitasking – that the best the human nervous system can manage is very fast task-switching, and that we get better results by concentrating on one thing at a time. Turns out there are a few exceptions – and researchers have been putting some of those individuals in a brain scanner.