Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘technology’

13 MAY, 2010

The Future of First-Response Environments


Displays for disasters, or what sensors have to do with survival.

In just a few short months this year, the world has seen more disasters than its fair share — devastating earthquakes, floods and a destructive oil spill, each requiring different strategies of emergency management. And this month, Organizing Armageddon, the excellent Wired article by Vince Beiser about lessons learned from the Haiti earthquake, exposed the many and worrisome shortcomings of disaster relief efforts. From infrastructure to technology to tactical coordination, today’s emergency management is in dire need of an upgrade.

Luckily, Precision Information, a division of Homeland Security’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is developing ambitious new first-response cooperation environments that focus not on a single piece of technology but, rather, on a suite of interconnected tools that offer targeted access to information and sophisticated decision-making aid for emergency response.

From predictive modeling to automated recommendations to augmented reality, this concept video is designed to serve as a blueprint for research in the next decade, exploring some of the possibilities in addressing key research challenges.

For a closer look at the many emergining technologies and concepts alluded to in the video — including ubiquitous displays, crowdsourcing, pervasive sensor networks and adaptive user interfaces — be sure to see the annotated version.

via information aesthetics

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14 APRIL, 2010

The 2020 Project: Visions of the Connected Future


What Scandinavian luminaries have to do with LEGO and the future of humanity.

There’s no question we live in an age where the cultural landscape is moving more rapidly than many of us can process towards something few of us can foresee. But an unlikely contender is aiming to construct a sober and visionary portrait of our collective future: Telecom giant Ericsson has launched the 2020 Project — a peek inside the minds of twenty of today’s sharpest thinkers for a glimpse of tomorrow.

Ericsson is asking these twenty visionaries to paint a picture of what the world will look like in 2010 in a series of video interviews that explore how connectivity and mobility are changing the world.

Though contributions so far come strictly from the (mostly Scandinavian) academia circuit — professors, authors, researchers — they are intelligenty curated in a way that offers randge and breadth of perspectives, covering everything from access to knowledge to female empowerment to sustainability to human rights.

Still, we hope to see some more diverse luminaries from less academic disciplines and the fringes of culture. It would be particularly fascinating to hear how artists, not ordinarily associated with technology, are being affected by the digital revoluion and how they see the future of communication.

The projet is part BigThink, part Sputnik Observatory, part new breed of realistic optimism for the future.

We can be the generation to end extreme poverty on the planet. No other generation before us could make that claim. No other generation before us had that power in our hands. What a thrill that we can be the ones to do it.” ~ Jeffrey Sachs

Our favorite, which we already raved about on Twitter last week: Blockbuster TED talk machine Hans Rosling, who explains the future of humanity in LEGO and a charming Swedish accent.

The weakest point today is the lack of global governance. Nation states are still very strong. We talk about globalization, but the fact is that nations are very strong. But we do not have a very strong united nation. We do not have a mechanism for governance. West America and Eastern Europe have to accept the world of equal nations. They have to accept that they have no given advantage over the rest of the world. And that’s good for them.” ~ Hans Rosling

Keep an eye on the 2020 Project as more interviews are being continuously revealed this month.

via Open Culture

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29 MARCH, 2010

Magazines: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow


Robin-Hooding print, vintage infographics, and what organ music has to do with the iPad.

As big proponents of the power of curated interestingness, we have to admit that despite their umbilical cord to the corpse that is the print world, magazines — the best of them, at least — are one of the finest examples of cultural curation. But in order for this editorial-curatorial model to survive and flourish past print, it has to adapt to the platform-blind content ecosystems enabled by technology, while staying rooted in the behavioral and cultural demands of its audience. So today, we’ll try to contextualize all this by looking at the past, present and future of magazine publishing from three different angles, exploring everything from the digitization of print archives, to the emergence of niche, indie titles, to the publishing potential of the iPad.


In the past decade, the magazine industry has has an incredible roller-coaster ride, from the boom of indie publishing to the bust of print’s web-induced slow and steady demise. Michael Bojkowski of the excellent LineFeed has just released Decadism: Magazines 2000—2009 — a brilliant and ambitious effort to distill 5 million minutes of magazine publishing into a 50-minute history.

Bojkowski delves into the most compelling depths of the print world, from what drives innovation (technology is the no-brainer guess, but there’s also a surprising layer of environmental concerns), to what factors make a magazine succeed or fail, to how audience fragmentation Robin-Hooded readership, eroding big-name titles while allowing smaller, nicher, independent ones to flourish. He highlights a handful of landmark publications, including a few of our favorite titles today — GOOD and Wired, we’re looking at you — and dissects the styles of some of the most iconic editors, art directors and designers working in publishing.

Lengthy as it may be, this video retrospective is more than worth a watch. We highly recommend it not only as an insightful look at the magazine industry, but also as a fascinating slice of the cultural anthroplogy in which the industry is rooted.


We have to preface this by saying that digitizing print is insufficient and misguided — trying to appropriate contend designed with one medium in mind for consumption in another, guided by entirely different reading behaviors, is like listening to an organ music concert on your iPod: You still hear the sound and get the main message, but all of its quality, authenticity and allure are lost. Still, it has a certain archival value that we can’t overlook — understanding the heritage of a medium is essential to crafting its future.

In the past couple of years, we’ve seen some of the most culturally significant magazines release digital archives in one form or another. In 2008, LIFE partnered with Google to release one of the world’s largest and richest photographic archives. Last month, Popular Science made 137 years of its archives available online. And every issue of SPIN magazine is available on Google Books.

Fulltable, a site dedicated to “the visual telling of stories, collects vintage magazine covers, ads, maps, photographs, illustrations and other print ephemera, covering everything from fashion to early data visualization. Despite the clumsy interface, the site is brimming with gems — like these John Falter magazine covers depicting small-town life in America, or this fascinating flowchart explaining big unionism, or this gorgeous 1939 map of Los Angeles.

While digitization is obviously not the answer to print’s relationship with web platforms, it’s a potent antidote to one of the web’s biggest plagues: Its ephemeral nature and the burying of excellent older content in this culture of immediacy and compulsive currentness.


It’s no secret the iPad has been profusely drooled on by the magazine industry, with print publishers hailing it as a silver bullet that will save their business and do their laundry in the process. Which it may be, but only if used in a smart way that harnesses its power to offer a more seamless and intuitive curatorial experience, rather than merely its techno-bling potential. Here are a handful of the better-conceived efforts to appropriate the iPad as a keeper of magazines’ fascination.

From Wired, a reader prototype running on Adobe Air, designed for the iPad before there was an iPad, set to launch this summer. We saw the demo live at TED last month, but the video is yet to be released, so we apologize for this poor-man’s version shot at SXSW this month — but you still get the basic idea.

From VIV, an interactive iPad demo — which we think falls a bit too much on the bling-over-editorial side, but is still compelling.

From Time Inc., a tablet concept for Sports Illustrated.

Finally, a concept from designer Jesse Rosten for Sunset Magazine reimagines the magazine industry’s most potent currency and readership gatekeeper: The allure of the magazine cover.

Of course, once these technologies are in place, pricing the content in an accessible way that’s not outrageously, unreasonably, prohibitively expensive is a different story. But however this forced evolution unfolds, one thing is for sure: A tectonic shift in media is upon us.

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12 MARCH, 2010

Beyond the Business Card: Three Alternative Tools


How to bump strangers, who killed the Rolodex, and what to do about it.

This week, we’re at SXSW, supposedly a mecca of interactivity and tech innovation. And yet we keep bumping into one massive business etiquette dinosaur: The exchange of physical, paper business cards.

So we’ve curated three handy digital tools to help unload the fossils and bring your networking up to speed with the digital age. The Rolodex is dead (we don’t even know anyone who owns one, let alone uses it), long live LinkedIn.


Bump may just be our favorite app ever. Free and available for iPhone and Android, it lets you exchange contact information with another person simply by bumping the two phones together. While it requires that the other person have the app as well, we’ve seen Bump adoption rates skyrocket in the past few months — it’s that good — so it’s bound to spare you a massive amount of number-crunching as you attempt to digitize those crumpled up business cards floating around your laptop bag.

Simple and incredibly fun to use, Bump combines seamless functionality with a kind of delightful playfulness — it’s hard not to smile when you see two grey-haired CEO’s bump fists and chuckle like fifth-graders.

Tip: If you keep your phone in your pant pocket, avoid walking up to people, saying “Let’s bump!” and pointing to said area of your pants. The capacity for martinis tossed in your face is limitless.


Let’s face it, most of us have more online profiles than we know what to do with — Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn, Google Buzz, Foursquare… they’re just the tip of the random registrations iceberg. And while a handful of them are actually useful for connecting with people, they’re becoming increasingly hard to manage, let alone share.

Enter, a nifty centralized home for all your digital dwellings. This tiny, update-from-anywhere video-enabled calling card contains all your favorite sites and services, giving you a simple URL to share with people.


We’ve always liked the idea of connecting real-life objects to the virtual world. Enter Stickybits, an ingenious tag-based platform for attaching digital information to physical objects. It’s simple — you get a bunch of barcode stickers, attach something to them online, and start handing them out. A free iPhone and Android app reads the barcodes and relays the embedded information.

Though meant for a much wider array of purposes — from “sticking” a wish on a gift to slapping on your laptop as a bring-it-home system in case you lose it — they’re perfect for sharing your contact info or even your resume.

Grab a pack of 20 barcodes for just $9.95 and start slapping.

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