Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

14 DECEMBER, 2011

Marginalia and the Yin-Yang of Reading and Writing

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The bibliophile’s property rights, or why the osmosis of agreement and disagreement belongs in a book’s margins.

The acts of reading and writing have always been intertwined, a kind of fundamental yin-yang of how ideas travel and permeate minds. Marginalia — those fragments of thought and seeds of insight we scribble in the margins of a book — have a social life all their own. But what is the future of marginalia in the age of the ebook? One answer came recently with the soft launch of findings, a new platform masterminded by Betaworks’ John Borthwick and my favorite nonfiction author, Steven Johnson, allowing you to save, export, and share excerpts from what you’re reading online and on your Kindle.

Yet, digital platforms aside, hardly anything captures both the utilitarian necessity and cultural mesmerism of marginalia better than this excerpt from the classic How to Read a Book, originally written by Mortimer Adler in 1940 and revised with Charles van Doren in 1972:

When you buy a book, you establish a property right in it, just as you do in clothes or furniture when you buy and pay for them. But the act of purchase is actually only the prelude to possession in the case of a book. Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it — which comes to the same thing — is by writing in it.

Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake — not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author.

Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book. But understanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him.”

How marginalia will live on may be up for debate, but whether they will is not — they’re simply too essential a canvas for digesting and disputing concepts, too key a voice box for our inner monologue about the world of words and ideas.

HT reddit books

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14 DECEMBER, 2011

Alter Ego: Portraits of Gamers Next to Their Avatars

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The real humanity of virtual worlds, or what imaginary public personas reveal about private personhood.

In 2003, British photographer Robbie Cooper was shooting the divorced CEO of a company, who shared that he used virtual world games to play with his children, a meeting them every evening in Everquest, where they would play and chat about mundane things like school and their mother. It was a way for him to connect with his kids, to whom he had little access after the divorce. Cooper recalls:

His description of the banal but emotionally important exchange, taking place in the vivid fantasy of the game, got me thinking about the nature of the game itself; it’s a world of surface appearances and symbols. Within that, their interaction had been reduced to text; it was a technological extension of psychological models — the imaginary, and the symbolic structure of language.” ~ Robbie Cooper

(Cue in yesterday’s fascinating peek at iconic writers’ thoughts on symbolism.)

So Cooper spent the next three years traveling the world, from France and Germany to Korea and China, to photograph virtual world players, placing their portraits next to their avatars. The results — poignant, powerful, remarkably eye-opening — are gathered in Alter Ego, a fascinating and, at its core, profoundly human glimpse of our quest for selfhood, identity, and social belonging. Micro-essays by each gamer offer a layered look at how we assemble our personas in a way that transcends the physicality of our bodies, our genetics, and our circumstances.

Equal parts provocative and humbling, Alter Ego offers a timely meditation on the construction of our social and personal identities in an age when the line between the real and the virtual is, increasingly, not nearly as simple as the distinction between atoms and bits.

via Flavorwire

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13 DECEMBER, 2011

Product Design: A PBS Off Book Documentary

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What safe sex has to do with 3-D printing, robotics, and education in the developing world.

From the fine folks at PBS Arts comes another fantastic micro-documentary, part of their Off Book series, which previously explored typography, steampunk, visual culture online, and generative art. On the heels of this morning’s Eames documentary, it takes a look at the world of product design, from its aesthetic and pizzaz to its ethic and values, featuring fuseproject’s Yves Behar, Peter Schmitt of MIT’s Personal Robotics Group, and Dr. Harvey Moscot of Mocost Eyewear. Though limited in both scope and “cast,” the film squeezes an impressive amount in its measly 6 minutes and offers a welcome prompt to think a little more deeply about the myriad products with which we interact daily.

What design does at its best is to accelerate the adoption of new ideas.” ~ Yves Behar

For a more in-depth look at the complex and cross-disciplinary facets of product design, from engineering to art history to cultural anthropology, see BBC’s excellent The Genius of Design and, of course, Gary Hustwit’s Objectified. Then, revisit Dieter Rams’ 10 timeless principles of good design.

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