Wednesday, March 22, 2017

We Don't Know What We Think We Know

Imbedded in the cultural DNA of America is the idea of the individual. Whether it’s the Horatio Alger story, or Gary Cooper taking on the bad guys in High Noon or the current President bragging that he alone can fix America's problems.

Nothing can be further from the truth. To carry the movie analogy a step further, Hidden Figures is closer to the real world than Dirty Harry. From the classroom to Silicon Valley we are learning that collaboration and cooperation are what works today.

But there is a reason it’s working. Not just as a trendy social construct, but because we are finding out that knowledge itself is a collaborative process. Not just on the internet or in shared google docs, but because we actually rely on the people around us to know what we think we know.

To expand on this I’m joined by two cognitive scientists who have taken this idea to a new level of understanding. The are Dr. Steven Sloman, a professor of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences at Brown and Dr. Philip Fernbach, a cognitive scientist and professor of marketing at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business. Together they are the authors of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone

My conversation with Philip Fernbach and Steven Sloman:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Can Democracy Survive Social Media?

There are many forces transforming our modern world. Some driven by technology and some by increased knowledge.

On the one had we are relearning the value of collaboration. In classrooms, in Silicon Valley and in successful partnerships of any kind. We are discovering that knowledge and success rely on sharing experiences and shared information.

Concurrently technology and it’s child social media, has given us the world's most powerful tools to communicate and collaborate with each other. It seems like it should be the perfect marriage

Unfortunately in the context of the social and political times we live in, these two forces have come together in an almost perfect storm, to drive a deeper wedge into the way we are divided politically, economically, racially and socially.

The result is devastating for the institutions of democracy. Rather than enhance what the founders gave us, the long tail of the internet has sliced and diced our biases and given us the ultimate tool for self reinforcement. What it means for the future of democracy and of this republic is an open question. One taken up by Harvard law and former Obama administration official Cass Sunstein in his new book #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media.

My conversation with Cass Sunstein:

Friday, March 17, 2017

Silicon Opioids

We check our phones hundreds of times a day. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram images fly by, as were always afraid we’ll miss something “important.” Snap, a company losing tens of millions of dollar a year, is suddenly worth over twenty billion dollars.  It’s betting on our obsession with seeing what others are doing.

Curiosity, envy or addiction? Every generation has its addictions. The invention of radio, television, the long playing record, the walkman, Pac Man, all had their day and their fans. But is there something different, something more addictive about our modern technology?

These are some of the questions asked by Adam Alter, an Associate Professor of Marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, in his book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.

My conversation with Adam Alter:

Thursday, March 16, 2017

It's High Noon Once Again

We still care what does well at the box office. Yet Oscar ratings have hit a new low. We still go to the movies and gossip magazines still shout out to us from the checkout line. But the influence of movies has waned since the heyday of Hollywood.

Long before the long tail of the internet, before five-hundred channels and social media, movies were once the principal popular entertainment that shaped attitudes, mores, styles and even politics.

Back in the early 50’s, the movies were politics. It was a time when the first stitches were sewn between politics and entertainment. And while the legendary studio boss Samuel Goldwyn is reported to have said to his filmmakers that “if you want a send a message, use Western Union,” many filmmakers of that time had a lot to say.

The country was still coming out of WWII. The Cold War and the Red Scare were were as prominent as news about Russia is today. Filmmakers like John Frankenheimer and writers like Carl Foreman were deeply engaged in the politics of the day.

One of the films that reflected that was the classic legendary High Noon. Released in 1952 it’s a powerful allegory for events then and now. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Glenn Frankel takes us inside the film and the times in High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic.

My conversation with Glenn Frankel:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Brief History of Time

As you are reading this, time is going by. Perhaps the degree to which you are engaged, will determine how long that time feels. That is just one aspect of the complexity of our experience of time.

There is a reason there are no clocks in a casinos. That most of us wake up at the same time everyday, whether we set the alarm or not. That time seems to go faster as we age and that our technology seems to get slower as we get accustomed to it.

Time is both a physical, psychological and biological constrict. The way in which they operate in both singular and parallel universes is the stuff that has kept both philosophers and scientists up many a long night.

Pulling all of this together is Alan Burdick in Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation.

My conversation with Alan Burdick:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Did The Boomers Get Us Where We Are Today?

Taking to the streets and traveling to the deep south, the boomer generation once played a major role in advancing civil rights in America

The voices of protest of the boomer generation helped end the Vietnam war and drove Richard Nixon from office.

In music, culture, movies and books, the boomers have made the world a richer place.

The rights of gays, woman and those with disabilities all blossomed under boomer initiatives. Boomers did much to push for improvement of the environment. For boomers inclusion and tolerance have always been a true north

Today, as a retrograde administration seeks to undo so much of that progress, there should be perhaps no better time to pay homage to what the boomers generation has accomplished.

Bruce Gibney sees it differently.

Perhaps he would have been happier if we had frozen in the 1950’s? Perhaps the self absorbed world of Mad Men had more appeal?

Bruce Cannon Gibney is a venture capitalist and writer. He was an early investor in PayPal, and later joined Founders Fund. His new book is A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America

My conversation with Bruce Cannon Gibney

Monday, March 13, 2017

A 2005 Conversation with Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the author of heartbreaking viral “Modern Love” essay that appeared in The New York Times earlier this month, died on Monday. The writer of adult and children’s books, had been battling ovarian cancer since 2015. She was 51.

Rosenthal published more than 30 books throughout her career, including the Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, published in 2005

Back on March 3, 2005 I had the opportunity to talk with Amy about Ordinary Life, and what it meant to live in the moment. It’s a phrase we take for granted now, but Amy was way ahead of the curve in understand what constituted a life well lived. In that book she reminded us that John Lennon was right when he said that "life is what happens while we're busy making other plans."

My 2005 conversation with Amy Krause Rosenthal:

A Real Life Spy Who Came In From The Cold

Every institution of government today is in chaos. Departments are unstaffed, the State Department is hollowed out, cabinet secretaries are either apologizing for themselves or the President, or they are traveling the world trying to reassure allies and adversaries.

But few institutions are in the kind of direct conflict, almost open hospitality, with the administration that the intelligence community and the CIA are. From his botched initial visit to Langley, to six am tweets, not since Kennedy have we had a President in open warfare with his intelligence community

Joining me to talk about all of this is John Kiriakou.

John Kiriakou, was a 15 year CIA veteran, where he rose through the ranks to the very highest levels of the agency. He was the first one in the intelligence community to expose the CIA’s use of torture. As a result he became on of very few American ever prosecuted under the Espionage Act. He was considered a whistleblower and served twenty-three months in federal prison

He is author of three books, his most recent is Doing Time Like A Spy: How the CIA Taught Me to Survive and Thrive in Prison

My conversation, on Radio WhoWhatWhy, with John Kiriakou:

Friday, March 10, 2017

The First Amendment Is On Life Support

The tensions that exist in this country between government and the press are older than this republic itself. In creating our Constitution, our Founders understood and and took steps to make sure that the tension always erred on the side of a free and unfettered press.

Today we have a particular irony. On the one hand information is more available, more democratized and theoretically more transparent as a result of the digital age. On the other hand, rarely in our history has freedom of the press been under such ongoing assault.

How we square this circle may very well determine the fate of the country and the future of our free press.

Joining me to talk about this is David Snyder, the President of the First Amendment Coalition

Thursday, March 9, 2017

What If Crimes Were No Longer A Matter of Free Will?

Remember the 2002 movie, starring Tom Cruise, entitled Minority Report? Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, it was about a specialized police unit that apprehend criminals based on foreknowledge. In this case, from psychics call Precogs.

Now imagine if cutting edge brain scans and other biometric markers could actually determine if individual criminal behavior was forthcoming.

Or suppose we could literally look into the brains of criminals after they committed a crime, to determine if the cause was biologically determinative as opposed to the actions of free wil.l

Unlike Minority Report, this is not science fiction. This is taking place in courtrooms across America. Journalist Kevin Davis writes about this in The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America's Courtrooms.

My conversation with Kevin Davis:

Monday, March 6, 2017

How Well Can We Ever Really Know Our Children? A Conversation with Sue Klebold

In this era of helicopter parenting, when every playdate takes on significance, when our dreams for our children often take on the appearance of strategic action plans, when friendship with our kids is so important, it’s easy to forget that they are individual sentient human beings. And while we think we know them, like our spouses and our closest friends there are always the mysteries of the human heart, mind and soul that we can never really know.

Few understand this better than Sue Klebold. The mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two boys responsible for the Columbine massacre.

In her book A Mother's Reckoning she goes where few mother are willing to go....into the heart of darkness that she did not know or understand about her son Dylan.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Presidential Secrecy Doesn't Work In The Digital Age

One of the most oft used phrases when talking about Presidents or any leader that gets involved in scandal is “what did he know and when did he know it.” Perhaps if the context of that question were reversed and the question was what did the American people know and when did they know it, we’d have less such scandal.

Presidential and executive secrecy has long been a tension in American history. Our founders worried about it. Congress and the executive branch have worried about it, and at various times, the American people have worried about it.

Today as we face these issues on steroids, in the Trump administration, we face a whole new landscape. The digital era creates both challenges and opportunity for the public and for the President.

Mary Graham has authored three books on the politics of information and is the co-founder and co-directs the Transparency Policy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School. Her most recent work is Presidents’ Secrets: The Use and Abuse of Hidden Power.

My conversation with Mary Graham:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

How Many Times Has The Government Spied on You Today?

There is that famous quote from Scott McNealy, founder of Sun Microsystems that "we have no privacy get over it."  Even those concerned about it, think that in this modern era, there is very little we can do about it.

The Snowden revelations, while dramatic and captivating for a few news cycles, did only a little to amp up public concern about surveillance, data collection and privacy.

Why is that? Is it simply that the reality and technology of modern surveillance is so disconnected from antiquated 20th century laws that there is just no logical thru-line with which to address it in ways that the public can understand?

We’re going to look at this today with Jennifer Granick. She is the Director of Civil Liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and the author of American Spies: Modern Surveillance, Why You Should Care, and What to Do About It

My conversation on Radio WhoWhatWhy with Jennifer Granick: