Brain Pickings

Knowledge Navigator: An Apple Concept from 1987

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What 1980s futurism has to do with the cola wars and presaging Angry Birds.

In 1987, Apple CEO John Sculley published Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple — a tale of innovative ideas, tumultuous transitions and unabashed practical futurism. Besides the fascinating story of the seminal “Pepsi Challenge,” which allowed Pepsi to gain unprecedented market share over competitor Coke, the book features a peculiar concept called Knowledge Navigator — a networked device that can search a massive hypertext database and retrieve just about any information, using a multitouch interface and powerful voice recognition technology. So, essentially, Wikipedia meets iPhone meets Ford Sync long before there was either.

Alongside the book, Sculley released a series of concept videos showcasing Knowledge Navigator, set in roughly the present day and regarded at the time as an outlandish technological pipe dream. (Here’s where we point you to last week’s piece on vintage visions of the future.)

What’s most remarkable about this Knowledge Navigator video demo is that it was produced six years before the graphical interface of the web even existed, a good 15 years before point-to-point videoconferencing like Skype was a mainstream reality, and some 2 decades before touchscreen technology had widespread device implementation.

Odyssey was republished last August by Betascript Publishing. We highly recommend it not only as a living hallmark of our collective cultural curiosity for information technology, but also as a fascinating presage of today’s digital learning landscape.

via Another Architect, tip via @petrazlatevska

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Stunning Images of Pollen, the Hidden Sexuality of Flowers

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We’re all about the cross-pollination of ideas and disciplines, and nowhere does it get more literal or more stunningly embodied than in Pollen: The Hidden Sexuality of Flowers — an extraordinary project by visual artist Rob Kesseler, who collaborated with two leading botanical biologists to document the otherworldly beauty of the building block of plant life. Using bleeding-edge electron photomicroscopy to scan these tiny microgametophytes of seed plants, Kesseler awakens a special kind of awe for the incredible diversity and miracle of plant pollination.

Pollen is like a 21st-century version of Ernst Haeckel’s remarkable illustrations from the early 1900s, a gorgeously gripping reflection of the amazing world we live in and a subtle but palpable living reminder to cherish, honor and preserve the planet’s precious biodiversity.

Images from Pollen: The Hidden Sexuality of Flowers, by Rob Kesseler and Madeline, published by Papadakis Publisher

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A New Culture of Learning: Rethinking Education

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The evolution of education, particularly as filtered through the prism of emerging technology and new media, is something we’re keenly interested in and something of increasing importance to society at large. Now, from authors Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown comes a powerful and refreshing effort to approach the subject with equal parts insight, imagination and optimism, rather than the techno-dystopian views today’s cultural pundits tend to throw our way.

A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change makes a compelling case for a new kind of learning, one growing synchronously and fluidly with technology rather than resisting it with restless anxiety — a vision that falls somewhere between Sir Ken Robinson’s call for creativity in education paradigms and Clay Shirky’s notion of “cognitive surplus.”

We’re stuck in a mode where we’re using old systems of understanding learning to try to understand these new forms, and part of the disjoint means that we’re missing some really important and valuable data.” ~ Douglas Thomas

The book touches on a number of critical issues in digital learning, from the role of remix culture to the importance of tinkering and experimentation in creating, not merely acquiring, knowledge. Central to its premise is the idea that play is critical to understanding learning, something we can get behind.

Sample the content with some excellent talks by the authors on the book’s site and grab a copy of A New Culture of Learning — you won’t regret it.

Thanks, Helen

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The Power of Nightmares: BBC on the Politics of Fear

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What al-Quaeda has to do with ancient Egyptian morality and Ronald Reagan’s liberalism.

BBC’s The Century of the Self, an ambitious documentary on the history of consumerism, is one of our most read and shared pieces. Commenter Jeremy recently brought to our attention another excellent documentary by the same British documentarian and writer, Adam Curtis: The Power of Nightmares — a provocative three-part miniseries subtitled The Rise of the Politics of Fear, exploring the origins of radical Islamists and Neo-Conservatives through archival footage and Curtis’ characteristically insightful narration.

Much of this threat [of international terrorism] is a fantasy, which has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It’s a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, security services and the international media. This is a series of films about how and why this fantasy was created.” ~ Adam Curtis

The documentary, timely and necessary as we head into another year of “the war of terror” and all the political propaganda that propels it, is available on YouTube in 18 parts, six per episode, which we’ve conveniently compiled into 3 playlists: Part 1: Baby Its Cold Outside, Part 2: The Phantom Victory, and Part 3: The Shadows in the Cave.

If quality is your thing, a digitally restored version with imporoved sound and picture quality is available on Collectors Edition DVD.

Ultimately, The Power of Nightmares is an investment in your informed global citizenship — a compelling, controversial and thought-provoking exploration of some of the most fundamental building blocks of our present media reality and sociopolitical landscape.

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