07 MARCH, 2011
By: Maria Popova
What information curators have to do with the revenge of technology and synesthetic autism.
We spent the past week in sleep deprivation and intellectual overstimulation so you wouldn’t have to, reporting from TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder and bringing back the most noteworthy highlights, soundbites and exclusive photos. Last week, we warmed up with 5 must-read books by some of this year’s speakers, and today we’re back with five more.
The pleasure of being right is one of the most universal human addictions and most of us spend an extraordinary amount of effort on avoiding or concealing wrongness. But error, it turns out, isn’t wrong. In fact, it’s not only what makes us human but also what enhances our capacity for empathy, optimism, courage and conviction. In Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, Kathryn Schulz approaches the subject of wrongness with equal parts wit and rigor, eloquently blending philosophical inquiry with social psychology and neuroscience to examine how the mind works.
However disorienting, difficult, or humbling our mistakes might be, it is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are.” ~ Kathryn Schulz
From Shakespeare to Freud, Schulz examines some of history’s greatest thinkers’ perspectives on being wrong and emerges with a compelling counterpoint to our collective cultural aversion to wrongness, arguing instead that error is a precious gift that fuels everything from art to humor to scientific discovery and, perhaps most importantly, a transformative force of personal growth that we should embrace, not mask or stifle.
THE FILTER BUBBLE
As information continues to proliferate, how we sift and filter it is of increasing importance in making sense of the world and framing what matters in it. And while human information curators (cough cough…) are working hard to separate the signal from the noise, the reality is that much of our information diet is being force-fed to us by algorithms that track and profile us, custom-serving us an information menu very different from our neighbor’s. In The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, Eli Pariser offers an eye-opening investigation of how this ultra-personalization is controlling and limiting the information we’re exposed to.
We’ve moved to an age where the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see. [...] We need the new information gatekeepers to encode a sense of civic responsibility into algorithms.” ~ Eli Pariser
This is an increasingly urgent question: Is the responsibility of those who serve information to give us more of what we already like and believe, or to open our eyes to new perspectives? And if it’s all algorithmically driven, is there even a place for such responsibility? From the role of content curators as moral mitigators of algorithmic efficiency to the underbelly of Google’s powerful personalization engines, which look at 57 data points before they serve us custom-cut search query results, The Filter Bubble is a timely and critical read for the informed information consumer.
WHY THINGS BITE BACK
Nearly 15 years old, science historian Edward Tenner’s Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences remains an essential exploration of what the author calls the “revenge effects” of technology — the unintended negative consequences of technological innovation. From oil spills to computer-induced carpal tunnel syndrome to the mass extermination of birds, Tenner draws on a wide range of everyday examples to deliver a thought-provoking study of Murphy’s Law as a grounding cautionary tale, even more important today in the midst of our blind techno-lust.
MAPS OF TIME
Astro-historian David Christian is considered the founding father of the Big History movement — the notion that in order to fully understand human history, we must integrate it with all disciplines and contextualize it in the larger history of time itself. Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History is Christian’s ambitious effort to synthesize the universe’s 13 billion years in a single volume, spanning nearly 600 pages and featuring 45 stunning black-and-white illustrations and 9 beautiful maps.
We can share what we learn with such precision that it can outlast the individual and remain in our collective memory. That’s why we have a history. I call this ability ‘collective learning.’ It’s what makes us different.” ~ David Christian
Though certainly non-exhaustive — after all, how could one possibly compress the entire spectrum of existence into a single tome, however formidable its size? — the book is an excellent primer for macro-history and a necessary foundation for deeper understanding of our place in the universe.
BORN ON A BLUE DAY
Daniel Tammet is a high-functioning autistic savant with Asperger’s syndrome, capable of extraordinary feats of computation and memory, from learning Icelandic in a single week to breaking the European record by reciting the number pi up to the 22,514th digit. The 32-year-old Brit also has synesthesia, the rare neurological crossing of the senses that enables one to “see” music, “hear” color, or experience letters and numbers with motion and texture, which makes him one of only about 50 people living in the world today with both synesthesia and autism.
Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant offers a rare and fascinating look at this superhuman brain and how it goes through the human world.
Our personal perceptions are at the heart of how we acquire knowledge.” ~ Daniel Tammet
From the challenges of sustaining a long-term romantic relationship to the realization of being gay to the entrepreneurship of turning his unusual life into a living by building an online language-learning system, the book is a powerful perspective-shift as Tammet transcends the pathology of his condition to deliver eloquent and highly engaging storytelling that leaves you with equal parts awe and empathy.