Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘social web’

08 JULY, 2010

Life in a Day: Google Crowdsources Humanity


Documenting the world, or how to take one of 6.7 billion pathways to Sundance.

What does “humanity” actually mean? How do the 6.7 billion lives around the world, with their daily triumphs and tragedies, amount to one cohesive human story? That’s exactly what Google is trying to document in the freshly launched Life in a Day project — a cinematic experiment to document a single day, as seen through the eyes of people around the world. (Sound familiar? Very familiar? Just sayin’…)

Google is crowdsourcing submissions from filmmakers and ordinary folks alike who, on July 24, will have 24 hours to capture a snapshot of their lives on camera. The project is a partnership between YouTube, LG, director Kevin Macdonald, and legendary producer Ridley Scott of Blade Runner and Thelma & Louise fame.

Dubbed “the world’s first user-generated feature film,” Life in a Day is set to premiere in January 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival. (Here’s what festival director John Cooper has to say about the project.) Creators whose footage makes it into the film will be credited as co-directors, and the 20 top contributors will get to attend the premiere at Sundance.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t reiterate the striking similarity of the premise to the One Day on Earth project, with a dash of 8 Billion Lives mixed in. So while being backed by Google and Ridley Scott certainly gives Day in a Life the leverage to gain critical enough a mass to offer a truly comprehensive snapshot of humanity, we’d have to extend a slight eyeroll at all the gushing about how “innovative” and “groundbreaking” the effort is.

Still, we strongly encourage you to take part — if anything, it’s a fun experiment and any opportunity to feel even a little bit more connected to our fellow human beings is an opportunity worthwhile.


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28 JUNE, 2010

Visualizing Divisions and Bridges in Cyberspace


What the Tea Party has to do with Twitter and the anxieties of dating.

Data visualization is an obsession around here and viz-wiz duo Wattenberg and Viégas are among our absolute favorites. At the recent Personal Democracy Forum, they gave an excellent talk about some of their recent projects and how data visualization can be used to better comprehend behavioral patterns acorss the social web.

Among the highlights: Web Seer visualizes how different groups — men vs. women, Democrats vs. Republicans — complete the same Google Suggest search queries. (Remember Question Suggestions?)

We get a portrait of people’s anxieties.” ~ Martin Wattenberg

A new, unreleased project looks at trending topics on Twitter and uses hand-crafted (as opposed to algorithm-designed) visualizations to capture the racial profile of certain topics.

Another not-yet-released project looks at Twitter conversations algorithmically, clustering words related to a specific search term around certain topical areas based on the hashtags used in the tweet mentioning the search term — in this case, “Obama.”

The algorithm also allows you to switch to avatar view, offering a curious collective portrait of the kinds of people engaging in conversations about that topic.

There are a lot of divisions in cyberspace and visualization helps expose them, but it also helps expose how the bridges are being built.” ~ Martin Wattenberg

See more of Wattenberg and Viégas’ fantastic work on their new joint online home,


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25 JUNE, 2010

Summer Reading: 5 Curated Recommendations


19th-century adventures, secret societies, and what not watching TV has to do with Wikipedia.

With the turn of the Summer Solstice this week, the season for beachside reading is officially here. But we don’t settle for your average slew of popcorn chicklit and droning business books that leave little behind besides fluff and buzzwords. Instead, we’ve curated a list of five fantastic reads bound to compel, engage and leave a permanent tan line on your cerebral cortex.


Nearly two years ago, media theorist extraordinaire Clay Shirky gave a fantastic keynote talk at Web 2.0 Expo on what he terms “cognitive surplus” — the surfeit of intellect, energy and time freed up by our shift away from passive media like television. This month, Shirky’s remarkably keen and timely insight on the subject arrived in the form of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age — a brilliant look at how new media and technology are transforming us from consumers to collaborators, harnessing the vast amounts of free-floating human potential.

To illustrate his points, Shirky calls on some rather stride-stopping examples — for instance, the 100 million hours of human thought used in building Wikipedia, with all its now-unquestionable reserves of human knowledge, are merely 1 percent of the man-hours Americans spend watching TV each year. Gives you pause.


In May of 1892, accomplished 19th-century “wheelman” Frank Lanz quit his job and set out to make a name for himself by circumventing the globe on a bicycle — a feat already accomplished on a tandem but thought near-impossible for a lone rider. After covering three continents in two years, having dodged countless dangers and survived many a near-disaster, he approached Europe for the final leg of his journey. And then he mysteriously disappeared somewhere in Eastern Turkey. A celebrity by then, his disappearance sparked an international outcry, which sent another cyclist all-star, William Sachtleben, in search for Lanz.

The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance tells the story of stubborn pride and tragic foolishness, captivatingly narrated and meticulously researched. It oscillates between an impressive arsenal of genres, from adventure to mystery to biography to political history, accompanied by remarkable and rare vintage photographs of the dawn of cycling culture.


We don’t normally do fiction here, but summer is the perfect excuse to dabble in the genre and Victor LaValle’s Big Machine is the perfect way to do it.

Centered around a secret society of “Unlikely Scholars” — an eclectic crew of curious minds and tender souls with shady pasts — the novel is part The Da Vinci Code, part Lost, part The X Files, using conspiracy theory and the paranormal as a subtle vehicle for commentary on much more grounded social dialogues like race and religion.


Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffany’s, based on the Truman Capote novel, is without a doubt one of cinema’s most timeless and culturally beloved masterpieces. Sam Wasson’s Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman dissects the iconic film and its legacy from every sociocultural angle imaginable — from on-set feuds and conflicts to sexual politics to the era’s moral paradigm shift to Hepburn’s impact on beauty culture and the world of fashion.


Neil Gaiman is a storytelling legend. His ethos that the four most important words of storytelling are “…and then what happened?” comes to life in his fascinating new anthology, Stories: All-New Tales — a collection of 27 never-before-published stories from an all-star literary cast, including Fight Club mastermind Chuck Palahniuk and Very Short List co-founder Kurt Anderson, among other greats.

The genre-defying tome treks across sci-fi, mystery and fantasy, peeling away at profound human truth along the way.

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