Wednesday, June 25, 2008

fair & balanced? vero possumus.

[this post is dedicated to my current token Republican friend/roommate, and the squatter that took his place when he was living in Brussels]

Barry, Barry, Barry... dude. seriously. what are you doing? didn't you see my earlier post condoning Hil's bad behavior? and then i have to go read this in CNN...?
Obama asks contributors to help Clinton with debt

(CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama has asked top contributors to help his former rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, retire her debt, an Obama campaign source said Tuesday.

Obama did not direct members of his National Finance Committee to contribute to Clinton's campaign, the source said, but asked them to do so if they were so inclined.

Clinton suspended her campaign and endorsed Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination this month.

She has amassed a campaign debt of about $22 million, but about $12 million of that is money the New York senator loaned to the campaign herself.

Individual donors can contribute $2,300 to individual candidates.

Clinton and Obama have scheduled a joint campaign appearance Friday in Unity, New Hampshire.

Obama said Tuesday that he had spoken with Clinton by phone earlier in the day as well as on Sunday.

"We had a good conversation," he said. "We're looking forward to seeing each other tomorrow and campaigning on Friday."

and that's not all. i mean i "get" the finance reform thing, but even our pal Jon had to call you out on it (among other things, the seal, really?):

he even brought out his new correspondent to try to explain it (albeit humorous, as always):

sigh. seriously man. you know i love you. but you're making it hard for me.

your pal (and supporter),


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Unaccustomed Earth.

last night i finished Jhumpa Lahiri's latest novel, Unaccustomed Earth. yes, i'm probably the LAST indian person to read this, and i know i'm not the first to say she is one of my favorite contemporary writers.

but wow.

honestly, while the book, a compilation of short stories, has been the one thing i've looked forward to each night alone before heading to bed (of course it was put on hold during Kat's recent visit), keeping me up far too late into the night, it really brought me down, way down. but i'm a sucker for depressing stories.

Lahiri is best known for her earlier works. her debut release, the Interpreter of Maladies, a book of short stories, quickly and unexpectedly won her the Pulitzer prize). her sophomore release, the Namesake was a novel which captured the hearts + minds of many children of Asian immigrants (and was later made into a movie, which of course, is never as good as the book, but will likely be watched by many a high school student should it be made required/summer reading in the future).

Unaccustomed Earth (the title taken from a Nathanial Hawthorne poem), to me focuses on a single theme: regret. this permeates itself across each of Lahiri's tales of nuanced reality. the characters are so real, their situations so recognizable that most of her target audience who finds themself reading it can relate in some way or another. and that's where the magic happens.

each of her tales strike a distinct emotional chord, whether it's the widowed father and his seeming indifference to his only daughter, the strained relationships of arranged marriages, the reflections of an immigrant child fitting in after his parents leave for the homeland, a sibling relationship strained by the difference of parental expectations, or even a series of short stories that chronicles to childhood friends into adulthood.

each night, as i finished one story and prepared to turn the lights off, and turn to sleep, my mind fixated on the situations that might have rang immediately familiar, but eerily possible in an alternate, or future existence. i was left wanting more. but right when you get to that point, the author leaves you wondering. it's the idea of leaving a party when everyone wants you to stay, rather than sticking around after everyone wishes you had already left. Lahiri has clearly mastered this art in her literature.

so go read Unaccustomed Earth. let's just hope you're not already feeling lethargic. this one will only take you further. in a good way.

Monday, June 23, 2008

brilliant. inspiring. time to quit my job.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

hats off to matt. if i can't figure things out in the next 6 months, i'm right behind him. credit to surya since i saw it on his bloog first.

so turns out Matt did the 2nd video (above) for Stride Gum. his first video is from 2006:

and here are the outtakes:

still inspiring, nonetheless. just the sort of crazy thing i would want to do with my life.

dear Hillary...

dear Hillary-
hi. how's it going? me? i'm ok. you know, still selling laundry detergent for the man, trying to figure out what i want to do with my life. kathryn's well, how's bill?

alright, let's cut the crap.

you know there's no love lost between you + i. while i think you're a more than competant politician, but i could never approve of the way you ran your recent bid for the presidency. did you deserve to give it a go more than most? sure. but beyond your extremely lame attempts at building support, you threw everything and the kitchen sink at my boy Barry.

i'm guessing you couldn't tolerate the fact that someone else might actually beat you. what made matters worse, is that throughout the campaign you loaned - not donated - much of you + your husbands PERSONAL wealth to the campaign (a'la Mitt Romney). i can't honestly remember where you netted out (was it $4, 6, or 8 million?), but what i do remember thinking was, "wow, for every $1 someone donates to your campaign, they're basically putting money BACK in your already deep pockets."

not a very populist move, if you ask me.

but to make matters worse, you today broadcast THIS video message, straight to my inbox (oh yes, i read ALL your emails, as i decided this election cylce to pay attention to the digital strategies + executions of ALL the major candidates):
"by helping us pay off our campaign debt, you're not just helping Hillary elect a Democratic president and grow our majority in Congress."

really? is that what were you doing before you lost? oh right, you were actually smearing the one guy who stood a chance of beating John McCain and taking back the White House. but i guess by clearing your debt, we ensure that you have enough money to make sure you get elected back to the Senate, which ultimately does help grow the Democratic majority in Congress.

how dare you Senator. how dare you.

your frienemy,

(btw - this format of writing letters to people is clearly nothing original of mine, as it's already been done [to death?] by several of my
other friends)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

C is for "clementine"? oh my darling....

quite possibly one of the funnier things i saw this weekend:

that and i now have been reminded of and reaffirmed my crush on CBS news war correspondant Lara Logan after seeing her on one of last week's episodes of the Daily Show. she totally beats out Tina Fey, because she's like, for real (accent wha-?!? no glasses needed!):

pork invaders?

ok. in my continuous audit of the digital marketing efforts in the 2008 presidential campaigns, i give you the latest from the John EXCLUSIVE new video game called "Pork Invaders", where "you fire vetoes at incoming pork projects, racking up the savings for American taxpayers":

you can't make this sh*t up.

though to be honest, i'm still patiently waiting for Baracknophobia, the game.

Friday, June 20, 2008

let the games begin.

the first Obama national ad aired today. pretty straightforward...

in the essence of fairness (for now), i'll also air a McCain ad...

finally, an interesting (and only semi-related) datapoint/contrast between the two shared by my NY lawyer friend Kana from

the news. is what happened.

i think i rendered a pretty decent likeness of the late Msr.Russert. kudos to me for the cool stock ticker idea in the footer as well.

man i've got an ego. i'm back baby!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

i am but a drawing.

my buddy Kevin did this little drawing (of me) today in a meeting (he was clearly not paying attention to whatever i was talking about).

yes i have not shaved (or gotten a haircut) in awhile, but come on! i look nothing like that. what do you think?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


i've been REALLY been out of it these past few days.

lots of stuff in my head worth writing, but haven't got the energy/fortitude to make it happen.

more to come.


Friday, June 13, 2008

the Audacity of Hope.

the other night, i finally finished reading Barack Obama's 2nd [more popular] book, the Audacity of Hope.

in summary: wow. if you are on the fence (maybe you think Obama is all hype or too inexperienced), and/or are seriously interested in making a decision between candidates this election (and not just voting down the line) READ THIS BOOK.

originally bought 18 months ago (dec 2006) for my sister, with the understanding that she would quickly finish + let me borrow.

time passes.

flash forward to December 2007, where Barry (what my friend fake Steve calls him) is all of a sudden no longer only the interesting + inspirational candidate, but a SERIOUS contender. back in the US for Christmas, i asked my sister again, so i could read on the 18 hour journey back to Singapore. she still had not finished it.

February 2008. still not finished.
April 2008. still not finished

June 2008. she was STILL not finished. so i simply grabbed it last week. a few [delayed] plane rides, some late nights, and early bus rides later (in total 5 days), and i was done

again, wow.

to be clear, most of what i choose to read for leisure is fiction (whether it be comics, well-written comedic insight, or too-close to home dramatic stories), and of what limited non-fiction i DO read is either historical (as a teen i was obsessed with the Cold War), business observation/innovation, random, and very rarely, political. most of my news comes from the interweb, the Economist, and week in review.

but as seen above, i'd wanted to read this book for a very long time. what was most interesting to me was how frank it was. throughout, Obama cites many things from his past experiences, as a youth, a community organizer, a budding politician, a state politician, and finally, a junior senator in th e US Congress. he constantly refers to the people he met and worked with, Republican and Democrat, and what he's learned + admired from many other domestic leaders that have come before him (including John McCain, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, JFK, Abraham Lincoln, and even the founding fathers like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton). more often than not, he brings his family into the fray, and how many of the issues discussed impact him as a citizen, and a father.

bookended by a prologue and epilogue, the book and divided into chapters covering several broad topics, each delving into the specific issues that every voter should be considering in November. specific chapters/topics discussed:
  • Republicans & Democrats (what has happened to [partisan] politics in America)
  • Values (media and how a politician should carry themselves)
  • Our Constitution (what has happened to the practice of our democracy)
  • Politics (special interests)
  • Opportunity (the economy, education + serving his constituencies)
  • Faith (the role of religion in America)
  • Race (why we cannot assume it is a non-issue)
  • The World Beyond our Borders (his experiences abroad, international policy, past, present and future)
  • Family (his, and others, and the effect the evolution of the family unit has on society)
for every issue discussed, Obama obviously gives his stance, but more importantly the principles that lead him there, as well as what works and does not work about the opposing point of view. and yes, he even goes as far as to state what he would - in a principle-based manner - actually DO to address some of these issues, when broken down into their core components. the underlying theme is that for every hurdle we face, there is a rational solution that can be found from informed discussion, guided by the commonalities that bind us together as America.

what i found interesting was how the LAST political book i read (Al Gore's the Assault on Reason), i was left feeling as if the many problems in our union were left exposed. whether it be the abuses of executive power, the pandering of the media, and the sheer apathy/disinterest of the public that ultimately got us to where we are today, Gore left me on a downer, with a trace hint of optimism. Obama's book started on a similar premise of the many critical issues we face, but then brought the tone back up by solidly addressing how he wants to get to the solutions (and not just rhetorically, practically).

even more interesting thing i found was that Obama's book was published in 2006, which likely means it was written in 2004/2005, just as he had become sworn in as the junior Senator from Illinois. and while he might have always had presidential aspirations, he only reluctantly entered the fray in 2007, with only a slim chance of making it as far as he had. the point is, this book was written not by a man wanting to be president, but as a man who believed that simply wanted his rational thought and experiences guide his principles and approach to politics.

in all honesty, even though my vote has already long since been secured for Obama (something that this blog and any conversations we have should already have well established), i was still curious if John McCain had published ANYTHING before his 2000 run for president. and my friend Derrick recently told me he had, and he owned the book (Faith of my Fathers, bought for $1 at a book sale recently). so i plan to read it. because i'd like to better know the other candidate as well, and not necessarily his politics (which are already well known, but i plan to do my research), but his principles. and nothing beats reading what someone has written to get inside their head.

if you're not sure where you're going to vote this year, or are planning to vote for McCain OR Obama - go read the Audacity of Hope (...and if you're too lazy/time-strapped, simply get the audiobook)

especially you guys - Dad, Mandi, Hamid, John, and Jason :)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

so, not sure if you saw this clip on Wed's Daily Show (now on hulu!), but if not, here it (sort of) is in all of it's glory:

that. just. happened.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

is Google making us stupider [the Atlantic]?

so this post is not my own, rather a random article from the Atlantic by writer Nicholas Carr i stumbled upon + got sucked into. i have yet to find a more efficient way to share these sort of things w/ you, the reader of my bloog

i could post a link or an excerpt, but i know you likely would not follow through. i could forward as an email, but that's so 1994 + i usually forget people. i could post to Facebook, but those often get lost in the flurry of newfeeds. i could mark it as "shared" in my Google reader, but i do not subscribe to this + only a handful of you see what i share. i could post to my Twitter, but again, how many of you guys follow me there?

so i apologize once again for my unoriginality, my main objective is to enlighten you thru shared content that is not my own.

anyhow, the headline of this article caught my eye in a random marketing e-newsletter. and this historical references alone make it worth reading. the psychological analysis of our internet use + the long term motivations of Google make it even more interesting.
Is Google Making Us Stupid?
What the Internet is doing to our brains, by Nicholas Carr

ave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?” So the supercomputer HAL pleads with the implacable astronaut Dave Bowman in a famous and weirdly poignant scene toward the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bowman, having nearly been sent to a deep-space death by the malfunctioning machine, is calmly, coldly disconnecting the memory circuits that control its artificial
brain. “Dave, my mind is going,” HAL says, forlornly. “I can feel it. I can feel it.”

I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after. Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets—reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link. (Unlike footnotes, to which they’re sometimes likened, hyperlinks don’t merely point to related works; they propel you toward them.)

For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon. Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. “I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?”

Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year. A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a telephone conversation with me. His thinking, he said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”

Anecdotes alone don’t prove much. And we still await the long-term neurological and psychological experiments that will provide a definitive picture of how Internet use affects cognition. But a recently published study of online research habits, conducted by scholars from University College London, suggests that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think. As part of the five-year research program, the scholars examined computer logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites, one operated by the British Library and one by a U.K. educational consortium, that provide access to journal articles, e-books, and other sources of written information. They found that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site. Sometimes they’d save a long article, but there’s no evidence that they ever went back and actually read it. The authors of the study report:

It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.

Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self. “We are not only what we read,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “We are how we read.” Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.

Reading, explains Wolf, is not an instinctive skill for human beings. It’s not etched into our genes the way speech is. We have to teach our minds how to translate the symbolic characters we see into the language we understand. And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing the craft of reading play an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains. Experiments demonstrate that readers of ideograms, such as the Chinese, develop a mental circuitry for reading that is very different from the circuitry found in those of us whose written language employs an alphabet. The variations extend across many regions of the brain, including those that govern such essential cognitive functions as memory and the interpretation of visual and auditory stimuli. We can expect as well that the circuits woven by our use of the Net will be different from those woven by our reading of books and other printed works.

Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter—a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, to be precise. His vision was failing, and keeping his eyes focused on a page had become exhausting and painful, often bringing on crushing headaches. He had been forced to curtail his writing, and he feared that he would soon have to give it up. The typewriter rescued him, at least for a time. Once he had mastered touch-typing, he was able to write with his eyes closed, using only the tips of his fingers. Words could once again flow from his mind to the page.

But the machine had a subtler effect on his work. One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of his writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic. “Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,” the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his “‘thoughts’ in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper.”

“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler, Nietzsche’s prose “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.”

The human brain is almost infinitely malleable. People used to think that our mental meshwork, the dense connections formed among the 100 billion or so neurons inside our skulls, was largely fixed by the time we reached adulthood. But brain researchers have discovered that that’s not the case. James Olds, a professor of neuroscience who directs the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, says that even the adult mind “is very plastic.” Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. “The brain,” according to Olds, “has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.”

As we use what the sociologist Daniel Bell has called our “intellectual technologies”—the tools that extend our mental rather than our physical capacities—we inevitably begin to take on the qualities of those technologies. The mechanical clock, which came into common use in the 14th century, provides a compelling example. In Technics and Civilization, the historian and cultural critic Lewis Mumford described how the clock “disassociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences.” The “abstract framework of divided time” became “the point of reference for both action and thought.”

The clock’s methodical ticking helped bring into being the scientific mind and the scientific man. But it also took something away. As the late MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum observed in his 1976 book, Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation, the conception of the world that emerged from the widespread use of timekeeping instruments “remains an impoverished version of the older one, for it rests on a rejection of those direct experiences that formed the basis for, and indeed constituted, the old reality.” In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock.

The process of adapting to new intellectual technologies is reflected in the changing metaphors we use to explain ourselves to ourselves. When the mechanical clock arrived, people began thinking of their brains as operating “like clockwork.” Today, in the age of software, we have come to think of them as operating “like computers.” But the changes, neuroscience tells us, go much deeper than metaphor. Thanks to our brain’s plasticity, the adaptation occurs also at a biological level.

The Internet promises to have particularly far-reaching effects on cognition. In a paper published in 1936, the British mathematician Alan Turing proved that a digital computer, which at the time existed only as a theoretical machine, could be programmed to perform the function of any other information-processing device. And that’s what we’re seeing today. The Internet, an immeasurably powerful computing system, is subsuming most of our other intellectual technologies. It’s becoming our map and our clock, our printing press and our typewriter, our calculator and our telephone, and our radio and TV.

When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed. A new e-mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration.

The Net’s influence doesn’t end at the edges of a computer screen, either. As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to-browse info-snippets. When, in March of this year, TheNew York Times decided to devote the second and third pages of every edition to article abstracts, its design director, Tom Bodkin, explained that the “shortcuts” would give harried readers a quick “taste” of the day’s news, sparing them the “less efficient” method of actually turning the pages and reading the articles. Old media have little choice but to play by the new-media rules.

Never has a communications system played so many roles in our lives—or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts—as the Internet does today. Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us. The Net’s intellectual ethic remains obscure.

About the same time that Nietzsche started using his typewriter, an earnest young man named Frederick Winslow Taylor carried a stopwatch into the Midvale Steel plant in Philadelphia and began a historic series of experiments aimed at improving the efficiency of the plant’s machinists. With the approval of Midvale’s owners, he recruited a group of factory hands, set them to work on various metalworking machines, and recorded and timed their every movement as well as the operations of the machines. By breaking down every job into a sequence of small, discrete steps and then testing different ways of performing each one, Taylor created a set of precise instructions—an “algorithm,” we might say today—for how each worker should work. Midvale’s employees grumbled about the strict new regime, claiming that it turned them into little more than automatons, but the factory’s productivity soared.

More than a hundred years after the invention of the steam engine, the Industrial Revolution had at last found its philosophy and its philosopher. Taylor’s tight industrial choreography—his “system,” as he liked to call it—was embraced by manufacturers throughout the country and, in time, around the world. Seeking maximum speed, maximum efficiency, and maximum output, factory owners used time-and-motion studies to organize their work and configure the jobs of their workers. The goal, as Taylor defined it in his celebrated 1911 treatise, The Principles of Scientific Management, was to identify and adopt, for every job, the “one best method” of work and thereby to effect “the gradual substitution of science for rule of thumb throughout the mechanic arts.” Once his system was applied to all acts of manual labor, Taylor assured his followers, it would bring about a restructuring not only of industry but of society, creating a utopia of perfect efficiency. “In the past the man has been first,” he declared; “in the future the system must be first.”

Taylor’s system is still very much with us; it remains the ethic of industrial manufacturing. And now, thanks to the growing power that computer engineers and software coders wield over our intellectual lives, Taylor’s ethic is beginning to govern the realm of the mind as well. The Internet is a machine designed for the efficient and automated collection, transmission, and manipulation of information, and its legions of programmers are intent on finding the “one best method”—the perfect algorithm—to carry out every mental movement of what we’ve come to describe as “knowledge work.”

Google’s headquarters, in Mountain View, California—the Googleplex—is the Internet’s high church, and the religion practiced inside its walls is Taylorism. Google, says its chief executive, Eric Schmidt, is “a company that’s founded around the science of measurement,” and it is striving to “systematize everything” it does. Drawing on the terabytes of behavioral data it collects through its search engine and other sites, it carries out thousands of experiments a day, according to the Harvard Business Review, and it uses the results to refine the algorithms that increasingly control how people find information and extract meaning from it. What Taylor did for the work of the hand, Google is doing for the work of the mind.

The company has declared that its mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It seeks to develop “the perfect search engine,” which it defines as something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” In Google’s view, information is a kind of commodity, a utilitarian resource that can be mined and processed with industrial efficiency. The more pieces of information we can “access” and the faster we can extract their gist, the more productive we become as thinkers.

Where does it end? Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the gifted young men who founded Google while pursuing doctoral degrees in computer science at Stanford, speak frequently of their desire to turn their search engine into an artificial intelligence, a HAL-like machine that might be connected directly to our brains. “The ultimate search engine is something as smart as people—or smarter,” Page said in a speech a few years back. “For us, working on search is a way to work on artificial intelligence.” In a 2004 interview with Newsweek, Brin said, “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” Last year, Page told a convention of scientists that Google is “really trying to build artificial intelligence and to do it on a large scale.”

Such an ambition is a natural one, even an admirable one, for a pair of math whizzes with vast quantities of cash at their disposal and a small army of computer scientists in their employ. A fundamentally scientific enterprise, Google is motivated by a desire to use technology, in Eric Schmidt’s words, “to solve problems that have never been solved before,” and artificial intelligence is the hardest problem out there. Why wouldn’t Brin and Page want to be the ones to crack it?

Still, their easy assumption that we’d all “be better off” if our brains were supplemented, or even replaced, by an artificial intelligence is unsettling. It suggests a belief that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized. In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive.

The idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data-processing machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network’s reigning business model as well. The faster we surf across the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the better. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.

Maybe I’m just a worrywart. Just as there’s a tendency to glorify technological progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).

The arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press, in the 15th century, set off another round of teeth gnashing. The Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men “less studious” and weakening their minds. Others argued that cheaply printed books and broadsheets would undermine religious authority, demean the work of scholars and scribes, and spread sedition and debauchery. As New York University professor Clay Shirky notes, “Most of the arguments made against the printing press were correct, even prescient.” But, again, the doomsayers were unable to imagine the myriad blessings that the printed word would deliver.

So, yes, you should be skeptical of my skepticism. Perhaps those who dismiss critics of the Internet as Luddites or nostalgists will be proved correct, and from our hyperactive, data-stoked minds will spring a golden age of intellectual discovery and universal wisdom. Then again, the Net isn’t the alphabet, and although it may replace the printing press, it produces something altogether different. The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.

If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with “content,” we will sacrifice something important not only in our selves but in our culture. In a recent essay, the playwright Richard Foreman eloquently described what’s at stake:

I come from a tradition of Western culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality—a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West. [But now] I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self—evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available.”

As we are drained of our “inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance,” Foreman concluded, we risk turning into “‘pancake people’—spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.”

I’m haunted by that scene in 2001. What makes it so poignant, and so weird, is the computer’s emotional response to the disassembly of its mind: its despair as one circuit after another goes dark, its childlike pleading with the astronaut—“I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m afraid”—and its final reversion to what can only be called a state of innocence. HAL’s outpouring of feeling contrasts with the emotionlessness that characterizes the human figures in the film, who go about their business with an almost robotic efficiency. Their thoughts and actions feel scripted, as if they’re following the steps of an algorithm. In the world of 2001, people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be a machine. That’s the essence of Kubrick’s dark prophecy: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.

Nicholas Carr’s most recent book, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google, was published earlier this year.

the raconteurs. rock.

just got back from a Raconteurs show (not my pic above, something i grabbed from Flickr). they rocked.

this pretty much rounds out my [current] list of bands that i've wanted to see (to be fair, this is an ever expanding list*, but 2 years ago i became obsessed with the Raconteurs & Wolfmother when both of their 2006 debut albums came out, and i got to see WM just before leaving for Asia). and yes, i keep track of every show i've been to.

interestingly enough, i got to the Raconteurs in a very roundabout way. there was a local band Cathedrals i randomly saw at Southgate House (opening for the Arcade Fire back in 2004). they rocked, and being a local band, i decided to see when they were next playing. at the next show i struck up a conversation with the cute girl at the door (trying to get some indie music tips from her), and she mentioned her recent obsession w/ Detroit power pop rocker Brendan Benson, who would be playing in a few weeks at Southgate (my favorite venue in the greater Cincinnati area, i say this because it's across the river in Newport, KY). so i dragged some friends to that show + loved it. he had this very deliberate air about him, and knew how to combine all the right elements and timing to make a sensible sort of rock you wanted to listen to. he also sort of reminded me of a taller, skinnier version of a good friends ex-wanna-be-rocker boyfriend (Peter?). and he was a nice guy, so the air of pseudo-familiarity didn't hurt. i enjoyed myself, and bought the album then + there (unusual for me), which quickly + easily made it's way into my regular music rotation.

some time later, i heard Brendan was collaborating with fellow [more famed] Detroit rocker Jack White on a side project, and a couple of dudes from the local Cincinnati band the Greenhornes (who i had never seen but heard quite a bit about). i had never become a White Stripes fan (i knew i should have been, but like the Beatles, these are things you discover later in life and regret not having become obsessed before), but was intrigued. then the debut album, Broken Boy Soldiers, came out. seriously. it gave Wolfmother a run for their money. anyhow the album rocked, but i never got to see them, until tonight.

and it's interesting. Brendan + Jack play surprisingly well off eachother. Brendan is the more soft spoken methodical rocker with a refined talent. Jack White is pure electric rockstar insane energy. i got a better feel for the latter the past few weeks when, upon hearing the Raconteurs new release "Salute Your Solution" (i swore it was a White Stripes song, and scoured my rarely-listend to collection of WS albums to find it, only to discover the power of Meg + Jack White).

anyhow. back to Brendan Benson + Jack White. it's like they're two childhood buddies just discovering they both play the guitars. you can hear this, but was apparently evident at the show. they make a great set of duel frontmen (w/ Jack sometimes stealing the show, but Brendan graciously stepping aside for a bit). the guys from the Greenhornes aren't too shabby either. the new album, Consoler of the Lonely , brings Jack more the front end, pushing Brendan out of his comfort zone and into the rocker that he was born to be, but always too sensible to become. the combined talent (+might!) of the group is somewhat reminiscent of the Traveling Wilburys, except a decade sooner than Tom, George, Bob, Roy, and Jeff decided to get together. and i'm thankful for this.

i only wish other [rock] artists would explore similar unions for something beyond a side project or a single.

the results are spectacular.

and if you don't listen to any of the bands i said above, and you like good music, seriously, what's wrong with you?

*sadly, i will not be seeing the Beatles, Nirvana, Boston, or the Who anytime soon (and despite what Billy Corrigan says, the Smashing Pumpkins are NOT back together), so none of these guys make the list. my heart could never take the disappointment.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

cannes prediction reel (watching TV at work)

earlier today i found myself in some traditional ad training, where we reviewed the final 50 ads to make it into the Cannes Lions 2008 (a big ad festival/awards in France where agencies submit their best ads of the year, and have winners chosen by...surprise! a bunch of OTHER ad agency people).

while many of the spots viewed were pretty keen, most them were too long, overly dramatic, + TOO involved. which reinforces to me that the traditional ad industry just doesn't get it. while i do think many of them are creative geniuses who know how to take a brand strategy and subtlety weave a message that dramatically expresses the benefits of product X, most of them are STILL too focused on ONE medium VS unleashing that experience across the entire spectrum of marketing. the fact that they become SO obsessed with just that medium to continue to celebrate the tradition in an awards show communicates to me that they're [sometimes, more often than not] just talking to themselves.

fortunately for you, i won't share every ads viewed. i WILL share the ones that i found engaging, and mind + heart opening. in many cases, the ads below were either part of a larger "campaign" (a series of ads along a similar theme), or had deeper integrated marketing elements that really made it hunt beyond TV (the Burger King, Halo, and HBO ads are good examples of this). and then, in some [most] cases, the ad itself was really cool, but didn't do a very good job selling me on anything, but as a consumer i say "hey, cool + entertaining content, so who cares?"

so anyhow, you'll find MY highlights below, w/ a quick gut analysis after (+ to be clear, i am not a good critic of TV advertising, but i am a good critic of entertaining content). but i'd love to know what you think. so pull up a snack, sit back, and enjoy:

Budweiser "dude":

i am easily amused. a good start.

Net10 "not evil" campaign:

a bit long winded, but i was engaged throughout, thinking there was deeper meaning to these documentary-like spots. even with the reveal at the end, i was OK, because they made a point.

Brylcreem "effortless":

could have sworn this was a soccer commercial.

Kellog's All Bran "construction worker":

crude. but effective (and funny!). reminds me of another cliche segue used in another genre of films (trains going thru tunnels, oil drilling, rocket ships launching, you get the idea)

Burger King "Simpsonize me":

the ad is OK, but i remember the campaign, and it was amazing. more than 60 MILLION people simpsonized themselves in the leadup to the movie. way to jump onto a bigger movement/fan base.

HBO "Voyeur":

THIS was cool. in NY, they actually handed out special invites for people to go stand + see a building that had a projection on the side that made it seem like you were looking inside. i plan to go watch this later.

Bundaberg Rum "wish we were in Australia"

Bundaberg rum is BY FAR my favorite rum. thanks to my buddy Ben for getting me hooked to something i do not have easy access too. any friends going to Australia, bring me back a bottle. it's got a polar bear on it.

HBO "stories" campaign:

this campaign was brilliant. i love HBO programming for this very reason (and i usually get it on DVD/online). everything they make, across their many genres of shows/movies/specials, has this perfect storytelling element to it.

"new" Diamond Shreddies:

smart, and hilarious. part of a bigger viral campaign. not sure how it actually fared, but definitely a new twist on an old product/concept

Halo 3

i'm not a heavy gamer, but objective of this campaign was to drive relevancy and awareness of a video game for people who didn't really care about video games. not exactly wii-relevant, but man does this drama grip you. i love the casting of the old guys reminiscing in an almost history-channel like WW2 type documentary. and i'm a sucker for documentaries. and space aliens.

Bud Light "swear jar":

f**k this ad is hilarious. that's all. no sh*t.

Smirnoff [spoiler] Red "Sea":

at first i was pretty sure this ad had some environmental relevance, maybe for an oil company trying to prove that it was looking into alternative energy sources. how this is relevant to alcohol, i still have no idea. but really fun to watch.

Cyloop "Pool":

ah racist stereotypes. you make for such good advertising. now you know why i wear no jewelry. or swim. or surround myself with buxom women. or rap.

Neo Sports "gas":

holy crap this ad is good. at first you think it's some sort of public service announcement. but then the pay off. if you know anything about sports rivalry, and have some inkling to the broader socio-political rivalry between india and pakistan, this ad should give you shivers.

Coca Cola "it's mine":

while i HAVE to think we stole the show at this past year's superbowl, i think this ad really took the cake. the pursuit kept the emotion of the product front and center. and our man charlie brown brings it home.

Burger King "Whopper Freakout":

numerous agency folks have been citing how breakthrough this campaign is. it was definitely an original take. the premise is good, taking a somewhat stale to declining franchise and bringing it back to the forefront with their flagship product. brilliant!

FedEx "Conference Call":

ha. skipping work is funny. the "i'm still here" gag at the end is even better. reminds me of mustafa from the first austin powers: "i'm still alive only I'm very badly burned.!" genius.

FedEx "Carrier Pigeons":

more gold from Fed Ex. who doesn't like giant mutant carrier pigeons. at least they don't have frickin' laser beams attached to their heads...

Hydro "kid engineers":

that's right kids. like tormenting your adults? then engineering is the field for you. sadly, i think i knew some of these kids in college (mallet?)

Buckley's "blind test":

unabashedly, these guys are willing to admit to their products fault. but that sh*t taste in your mouth, that means it's working!

Skittles "touch":

just plain ridonkulous. and such tragedy. that's what makes it perfect.

Sony "play doh":

this one is just beautifully done. you almost want to believe they ran this stop motion in the city. and there was a giant red bunny in the square.

Cadbury "gorilla":

i am left speechless with this viral hit. but what a great way to close this one out.
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