Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The world's first tech start-up

Socrates was worried about the rise of written text. He feared that it would change our habits of mind and not allow us to remember.

The printing press would spark another revolution, as mass produced text would change the world. Not unlike our current digital revolution, the push back was fierce and loud.

And because history does repeat itself, we can indeed learn a lot by looking back at the last great technological revolution in publishing. One that gave birth to the publishing industry itself, and that today, fights for its place in the digital tsunami.

Journalist Alix Christie takes us back to this momentous time, 500+ years ago, in her debut historical novel Gutenberg's Apprentice.

My conversation with Alix Christie:

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Friday, September 26, 2014

How technology is reshaping philosophy

We've all played the game of thinking about and listing the most important inventions in the progress of mankind. Certainly from the wheel, to the printing press to the transistor, there are plenty to choose from.

But seldom do we think about philosophical revolutions. The invention of ideas and philosophies and habits of mind, that have also changed the world.

Of these, there have been less. Perhaps, according to Luciano Floridi, only three that have truly shaped our conception of the world and who we are within it

Oxford philosophy Professor Luciano Floridi argues that the technological and information revolution of today, has created a rare  Fourth Revolution, from which we now view ourselves and our place in the world. A world in which we shape our reality and that reality in turn shapes us.

My conversation with Luciano Floridi:

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Foreign Correspondent

Once upon a time we got our international news through the relentless reporting of foreign correspondents The Vietnam War may have brought war into our living rooms for the first time, but reporters still provided context. Citizens would come to understand events through the consistency of work from a reporter, though time and experience.

Today, that foreign correspondent, satirized by Evelyn Waugh and celebrated by Hitchcock is an endangered species.

Today the freelance reporter, dashing about and multitasking media, looking at events on a one off basis, may not have the same contextual understanding.

As a result, we tend to look at distant events without the benefit of context or connection. The result is that our mistakes and failure appears untethered from each other and this, coupled with our short memories and even shorter attention spans, prevents the foreign correspondent from providing that first draft of history.

HDS Greenway has been an eyewitness to some of the most profound events of our times, including the fall of Saigon, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, and the horrors of both gulf wars. Now he shares his remarkable career as a Foreign Correspondent: A Memoir

My conversation with HDS Greenway:

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Words to eat by

Few things ignite all of our senses to the degree that food does. Once simply a form of sustenance, food today, in restaurants or in markets, represents status, sexuality, politics, and education. Where all of this comes together, is not just in taste, or smell, or texture, but in the language that is used by purveyors of food, and the language that we all use, in talking about food.

Stanford linguistics Professor and MacArther Fellow, Dan Jurafsky gives us a menu to interpret this in The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu.

My conversation with Dan Jurafsky:

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

This is your brain on narcissism.

Like it or not, the nature of our society and of our culture today is focused inward. Walk down any urban street, vs. 40 years ago and instead of looking out, we’re look down or inward. At our phones, our images, at our own world.

In a culture where self branding is celebrated, where selfies rule and Millennials are self absorbed, is it any wonder that narcissism seems rampant?

But is this just a societal phase, resulting in the kind of prolonged adolescence that A.O. Scott talked about in his NY Times essay, or is it a clinical epidemic that needs more serious attention? Jeffrey Kluger examines these changes in The Narcissist Next Door: Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed—,in Your World.

My conversation with Jeffrey Kluger:

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Instant Gratification and the Decline of Institutions

It seems quaint now, but there was a time we had to rely on others for most of our needs. We had to rely on family for food, operators to place calls, travel agents to book travel, the post office to deliver mail, and large institutions to fulfill our needs.

The technological revolution that began in the 70’s changed all that. As consumers, as individuals we become empowered. We could do our own thing, we could customize our lives.

But this new found power was a little like an 18 year old going off to college. A new freedom that would often result in excess. That excess, for us as a society, has been the self absorption that it has engendered.

But that’s changing. The millennial generation is both self absorbed AND one of most compassionate. It is arguably the bridge in a maturing culture that is coming to grips with this new found power.

These are some of the core issues that Paul Roberts writes about in his new book, The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification

My conversation with Paul Roberts:

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Technology, IS making us smarter!

If we were to listen to many of the Cassandras out there today, you would think that technology, information, and progress were all bad.

They are the same people who would have objected to the printing press, the telephone, television and the automobile.

They look at education and don't understand why memorization and rote learning are no longer worthy of attention and want to put the technology genie back in the bottle.

Well, it's not going back in! In fact, much of what we have wrought as a society and as a civilization has made us better, smarter, and awakened whole new aspects of human potential. Journalist Clive Thompson makes the case in
Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better.

My conversation with Clive Thompson:

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Pentagon's Brain

You probably remember that in the world of James Bond, Q is the fictional character who heads up the also fictional research and development division of the British Secret Service. He conjures up all of those amazing and high tech weapons that Bond has employed since he was dreamt up by Ian Fleming, in the early 50’s

On a parallel track, in the real world, has been the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or DARPA. Created by Eisenhower in the late 50’s, it’s mission was to create science fiction inspired high tech weaponry for the American military.

DARPA was also Frankenstein like, in that Eisenhower and his Generals created it, and then, on his way out of office, Ike warned us of its dangers. But it's only now, in the context of Annie Jacobsen's book, The Pentagon's Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America's Top-Secret Military Research Agency that we can see the full scope of what DARPA did and did not accomplish.

My conversation with Annie Jacobsen:

Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence

It seems that every generation seeks to find fault with the adolescent generation coming of age. Just as the parents of boomers eschewed the 60’s, so today, we boomers are all too quick to criticize and disparage the state of Millennials.

Perhaps if we better understood adolescence, the process that the brain goes through as it remodels itself, we’d better understand the young adults that are coming of age.

And while we are quick to judge what seems to be the extension of adolescence today, new research shows that the extension of adolescence is actually the extension of the plasticity of the brain which allow it to continue to be enhanced and invigorated.

Understand all of this has been the work of Dr. Laurence Steinberg in Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence.

My conversation with Dr. Laurence Steinberg:

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why do we celebrate diversity, and then try and co-opt it?

Be it immigration, race or sexual orientation, we have an odd human tendency to expect that tolerance and integration to really mean sameness.

The idea of a social, political and cultural melting pot is often seen as the primary metaphor for accepting difference, as opposed to … well just accepting and appreciating differences.

Perhaps nowhere has this been more profound than for gays and lesbians. Once shunned, now we look to gay marriage, child rearing and fashion, as a kind of establishment model.

In short, human beings love to co opt difference and seek sameness.

But what impact does this have on individuals who may be different?  Individuals whose ideas, values, creativity, and life style seek to really be different?

That is one of the issues that Julie Bindel takes up in Straight Expectations

My conversation with Julie Bindel:

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Monday, September 15, 2014

The New Capital of Big Data

Is there anyone that believes that we still have a measure of privacy? Not only are there cameras everywhere, not only is big data a part of almost every business, but the uses of this data, not by the NSA, but by corporate America, are becoming ever more sophisticated.

After all, it’s what we say we want. Better customer service, better consumer satisfaction and greater personalization. After all, when you look up something on Amazon or Google and then you see ads for that item within seconds, on every website you visit, maybe it seems to go a bit too far.

No place is better at this, particularly in the bricks and mortar world, than Las Vegas. A place where money and service are as one, where loyalty still seems to matter and where the world of tech and the world of touch come together, as in few other places.

This is the backdrop for an Adam Tanner's look at big data, in What Stays in Vegas: The World of Personal Data—Lifeblood of Big Business—and the End of Privacy as We Know It.

My conversation with Adam Tanner:

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why Wilson matters

Last week President Obama, in addressing the issue of Syria, talked about America's unique role in the world. Russian President Putin would go on to criticize the idea of American exceptionalism. The fact is that Obama's commitment to and Putin's criticism of America's place in the world, has its roots in the ideas of our 28th President, Woodrow Wilson. Inaugurated 100 years ago.

In urging Congress to enter WWI, Wilson talked about the need to make the world "safe for democracy."  In so doing, he perhaps inadvertently laid the predicate for the next century of US foreign policy and an idealism that often went beyond America's direct national interests.

He would come to define the modern activist Presidency, and would lay the groundwork for a broader role for the federal government.

He did it all coming to office with a minimum of political experience, accusations of elitism, racism and a disregard for civil liberties. Still, he ranks as one of our great Presidents. The how and why of this is embedded in A. Scott Berg's sweeping biography Wilson, thirteen years in the making.

A Scott Berg is a best selling biographer, a winner of the NationalBook Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

My conversation with Scott Berg:

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Friday, September 12, 2014

The Boys In The Boat

Think about some of the great themes and conflicts of our times. Freedom vs. Tyranny, the 1% vs the 99%, East Coast values. vs the Western ethos, team effort vs individual effort, the US vs Russia, the triumph of the Greatest Generation, craftsmanship vs mass production, and the moral as well as physical victory of America in the Second World War.

All of these themes and more are part of the story that Daniel James Brown weaves together in his bestselling The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Reminding us that the story of Jesse Owens was not the only American triumph to emerge from the 1936 Olympics. The victory of the Boys in the Boat, the University of Washing crew team, would happen, right under Hitler’s watchful gaze.

My conversation with Daniel James Brown:

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The 9/11 generation

As we approach this anniversary of 9/11, it's worth noting that the Afghan war has become the longest in American history. Also, to think about how many of the men and women who have served in that war, were motivated and inspired to act, by those events thirteen years ago.

Michael Golembesky is one of those. He would go on to become one of the first members of the US Marines Special Operations Team, that was created in 2006.

His story, his eight years of service, is a telling snapshot of both the good and bad of our efforts in Afghanistan.

He shares the personal and military nuances of his story in his memoir Level Zero Heroes: The Story of U.S. Marine Special Operations in Bala Murghab, Afghanistan.

My conversation with Michael Golembesky:

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Gold Rush...then and now

When we talk about success, be it on Wall Street, or Silicon Valley, or even the boom in natural gas, we always talk about it as “the new gold rush." In part because the Gold Rush represented the mobility, energy and adventure of Americans in pursuit of riches.

But those riches, that began in California in 1849, were anything but easy. While many made fortunes, many of those fortunes came to those who took care of the hundreds of thousands who would come looking to change their lives.
That’s the world that Edward Dolnick writes about in The Rush: America's Fevered Quest for Fortune, 1848-1853

My conversation with Edward Dolnick:

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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Do we need a constitutional amendment to take money out of politics?

Election day 2014 is fast approaching. At the end of the process, we will have spent over three hundred million dollars to decide if Mitch McConnell or Harry Reid will have a two vote margin.

While there are many social, political and psychological reasons for our current state of political gridlock and polarization, money is certainly at the core.

The next Presidential election could well cost over one and a quarter billion dollars. It costs ten million, at the very least, to become a US Senator and even House races cost millions.

We’ve long talked about the corrosive effect of money in politics, and Citizens United has only reinforced that. But both sides are raising and spending the money with equal alacrity, and the public shows no signs of being fed up enough, to do anything about it.

If it continues, what does it really mean for democracy has we have known it, what kind of government will it give us, and will there ever come a tipping point for an angry and disaffected public? Those are some of the question that Tim Kuhner raises in Capitalism v. Democracy: Money in Politics and the Free Market Constitution.

My conversation with Tim Kuhner:

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Does Football have a future?

Once upon a time, our national pastime had nine innings, a long season, a pastoral setting and the worship and appreciation of the Boys of Summer.

Today, that pastime has been replaced by 60 minutes of intense violence. With words like blitz and gridiron. Where once stadiums had an ambulance standing by for fans that might have a medical emergency, today, the ambulance is there for the players whose concussions and broken bones and worse, are the norm. What’s worse, is that is also a game that children want to play.

I guess we shouldn't’ be surprised that a culture that reveres “Bullets and Burgers” would turn to football as its new national pastime. Put more succinctly, is football driving the decay of our culture, or has our culture provided the perfect storm for the explosion of football's success?

Former sports journalist Steve Almond, in Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifestotakes a look at the decay and corruption that is football today. A sport perhaps more in need of a warden than a commissioner.

My conversation with Steve Almond:

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

We are deep in the heart of back to school season. Therefore, it's worth noting that while we have had dozens and dozens of conversations, on this program, about the improvement and mechanics of education, about its need to transform itself into a modern world, rarely have we ever stepped back to examine or even question the purpose of that education. In part, because the answer today, almost seems like a paraphrase of Bill Clinton,... It’s the career stupid!

But should it be? Should there be a higher and more noble purpose, particularly for higher education? As education moves more and more toward modeling the work force, that is being about collaboration and problem solving, are we losing something?

Has the worship of STEM and Wall Street, and the abandonment of the traditional Liberal Arts education left us in a lurch, whose implications have rippled out to impact almost every aspect of society.

If that’s true... then there is no app for that. There is only the conversation started by William Deresiewicz in Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

My conversation with William Deresiewicz:

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