Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky
Started reading this last year, finished it a few weeks ago. My favorite sentence from the book which maybe summarizes it best: “The internet is an opportunity machine.”
My other favorite passage, which I’ve already posted, but I’ll repost here anyways:
The stupidest creative act is still a creative act… On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.
Oh, by the way: it’s fun to pay attention to subtitles, especially when a book comes in a hardback/paperback edition — the paperback edition usually shows the evolution (or devolution) of the publisher’s marketing of the book. The hardcover subtitle of Cognitive Surplus is “Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age” vs. the paperback subtitle, “How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators.” When Lewis Hyde’s The Gift came out, the subtitle was “Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property”—later, much later, it was “Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.”
That favorite passage reminds me of Peter Thiel talking about horizontal business vs. vertical business. Going from 1 to N, copying things that work, incrementally spreading and improving, is hard, yes. But going from 0 to 1 is really, really hard in a very different way.
Wes Anderson’s Arrested Development. Interesting criticism here. This led to an aha! moment for me:
Nothing more perfectly evokes the feeling of both a child’s literal interpretation of the world and youthful big ambition on a frustratingly small scale like a school play, and Anderson smartly adopts this style.
[…] We don’t lose ourselves in the emotion of the production, and for the same reason we’re not meant to lose ourselves in the story of an Anderson film. Like in a children’s play, we are meant to be aware at all times of creative effort, for this is where its true value lies. Anderson’s ability to blend substance and form and communicate this feeling is his greatest skill. His films look like a stage plays: Sets look like sets, the frame becomes the proscenium arch (with a symmetry in the set that exaggerates and enhances the frame’s boundaries), and the action is kept in the center of the frame, usually directed out toward the audience in mainly medium or wide shots.
And I like this:
Anything that helps to enlarge an understanding is important, as large thinking is contagious and will contaminate all other areas of your life, so that eventually nothing will be allowed to remain simple and small.
Lots of great examples here. E.g., ideas are food (raw facts; a half-baked theory; let an idea percolate; devouring a book) and theories are buildings (ideas need a foundation and support; construct a theoretical framework; buttress an argument), etc. (via). Makes me think of George Saunders:
When we get better at expressiveness, we get better at understanding, better at sympathy, better at bullshit-detection, better at experiencing pleasure, better at true engagement (with others, with the world, with ourselves).
Update: I think this is one reason I love learning about the history of a word. Like when I learned the word raga is related to the Sanskrit word for dye (the musical form colors your mood!), or when I was reading The Gift of Fear recently and learned that intuition has roots in a word meaning protection, defense, guardianship (you trust it because it has your interests at heart). Learning where a word comes from, like metaphors, has a way of changing your perspective or giving you another lens to see language through. And yeah, I just used two metaphors to explain how etymology is like a metaphor. Boom!
Metaphors We Live By – George Lakoff and Mark Johnson [pdf]
From an interview with the creator of Brain Pickings:
When you intercept the rumination process with something that requires your full attention—that’s stimulating and absorbing, that places a demand on your intellectual focus—you don’t get to ruminate. In a way, it’s a mental health aid to be able to do that so much. My routine, what I do, it just feels like home. It’s my comfort food.
Maria Popova’s Beautiful Mind – Mother Jones
I’ve long thought of Cowen’s talk as a must-listen and listened to it multiple times. And now it’s been transcribed. And thus, a must-read. Filed under: storytelling.
Stories, to work, have to be simple, easily grasped, easily told to others, easily remembered. So stories will serve dual and conflicting purposes, and very often they will lead us astray.
[Transcript] Tyler Cowen on Stories – Less Wrong Discussion
…a Greek word with several translations into English including a reminder, a note, a public record, a commentary, a draft, a copy, and other variations on those terms.
The context was Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, but it sounds like a good description of Tumblr, Twitter, and a number of wonderful things on the internet. I first came across hypomnemata (sleep + thread…) in The Present Alone is Our Happiness (recommended in Ryan Holiday’s super awesome reading list email archive).
Reading the Wikipedia entry, it made me realize what I often (mostly?) use this Tumblr for: to make notes to myself, shaping and re-shaping my perspective. Many of my favorite posts (tagged, e.g., work, opinions, empathy, arguments, happiness, death, travel, thinking, philosophy, stoicism, psychology) function as a sort of admonishment that I really do re-read every now and then. It’s an attempt to refresh and re-calibrate, internalize. This journaling/commonplacing thing isn’t new, but there’s something satisfying about knowing that one strand of the tradition goes back to an old Greek word. See also commentarii, commonplace, memoranda.
Hypomnema – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
I feel like I’m losing some of my ability to think. Why? Because I’m not blogging any more.
collision detection: The art of public thinking