Printing Press and iPhones

07eganWeb-master768

If you read only one article this week, read, “The Phone Is Smart, but Where’s the Big Idea?” Here’s just a taste:

I used a smartphone GPS to find my way through the cobblestoned maze of Geneva’s Old Town, in search of a handmade machine that changed the world more than any other invention. Near a 13th-century cathedral in this Swiss city on the shores of a lovely lake, I found what I was looking for: a Gutenberg printing press.

“This was the Internet of its day — at least as influential as the iPhone,” said Gabriel de Montmollin, the director of the Museum of the Reformation, toying with the replica of Johann Gutenberg’s great invention. It used to take four monks, laboring in a scriptorium with quills over calfskin, up to a year to produce a single book.

With the advance in movable type in 15th-century Europe, one press could crank out 3,000 pages a day. Before long, average people could travel to places that used to be unknown to them — with maps! Medical information passed more freely and quickly, diminishing the sway of quacks. And you could find your own way to God, or a way out of believing in God, with access to formerly forbidden thoughts.

The printing press offered the prospect that tyrants would never be able to kill a book or suppress an idea. Gutenberg’s brainchild broke the monopoly that clerics had on scripture. And later, stirred by pamphlets from a version of that same press, the American colonies rose up against a king and gave birth to a nation.

Intrigued? You can read the entire article here

Seven Books

n-SCI-FI-INVENTIONS-628x314

Last week, I posted a blog built around my thoughts on a 2011 New York Times article entitled, “Novelists Predict Future With Eerie Accuracy.”

More recently, I read an interesting piece that called out specific events or technologies, from the atomic bomb, to digital media, to Watson, to more. Here is how the piece begins:

The late Tom Clancy was known for his uncanny ability to accurately predict future events with his fiction writing. His 1994 novel, “Debt of Honor,” describes a September 11th-like attack, and his 2010 book “Dead or Alive” describes the capture of a Bin Laden-like public enemy.

While remarkable, these seeming premonitions aren’t uncommon; Sci-fi writers have been predicting the future for centuries. Jules Verne was describing rocket ships and submarines before these vehicles of exploration even existed. Although we don’t delve into the ocean’s depths inside of “a long object, spindle-shaped, occasionally phosphorescent, and infinitely larger and more rapid in its movements than a whale,” his prediction, while distorted, more or less came true.

This presents a “chicken or the egg?” sort of question: Do writers simply notice the direction a cultural phenomenon is heading in, or do their ideas inspire cultural and technological change? In some cases, a fiction writer’s imagination serves as a sort of catalyst for new technologies. But sometimes, like with Edward Belamy’s lost classic “Looking Backwards,” it’s difficult to say whether or not the author had anything to do with the eventual inventions.

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Common Ground

01erickson-master768

Every so often, I find an article that speaks volumes about how we live our lives and sometimes suggests a course correction.

That’s why I was taken by Erick Erickson’s revealing piece, “How to Find Common Ground.” He admits it took a near-death experience to inspire him to write this article. Here is part of what he shared:

“As we have moved more of our lives onto the internet, we have stopped living in actual communities. Instead we have created virtual communities where everyone thinks the same. We do not have to worry about the homeless man under the bridge because he is no longer part of our community. He is someone else’s problem. But that simply is not true.”

“Even as the internet provides us great advances, it also segments us. We have social-media tribes and our self-esteem is based on likes and retweets. We have hundreds of television channels and even more video choices online where Hollywood no longer has to worry about broad appeal. There is a channel for everyone, and everyone in the tribe will get the inside jokes. Social-media interactions have replaced the value of character.”

“The truth, though, is that our Facebook friends are probably not going to water our flowers while we are on vacation and our Twitter followers will not bring us a meal if we are sick. But the actual human being next door might do both if we meet him.”

“This is what I want my children to know if I should die before they wake. The kitchen table is the most important tool they have to reshape their community. Preparing a home-cooked meal and inviting people over, both those we know and those we want to know, forces us to find common ground.”

Want more? You can read the full article here

Tech Giants

13taplin-master768

Most would agree that technology has enriched our lives and we marvel at the genius of those leading the  “FAANG” companies, which most of us know is is an acronym for the five most popular and best performing tech stocks in the market, namely Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Alphabet’s Google.

But increasingly, more voices are being raised expressing strong doubts as to whether this largely romantic view of the tech industry is at odds with reality. That’s why I was struck by New York Times Op-Ed, “Google Doesn’t Care What’s Best for Us.” Here is part of what the writer shared:

“For much of the short life of Silicon Valley, America has held a largely romantic view of the tech industry. Men like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were held in high esteem. But increasingly, companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook are coming under the same cultural microscope that questioned the “greed is good” culture of the 1980s. Viewers of the comedy series “Silicon Valley” note that uber-libertarianism and uber-geek machismo go hand in hand. And certainly Mark Zuckerberg was not happy with his portrayal in David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” nor could anyone in the Valley be happy with Dave Eggers’s novel “The Circle” or Don DeLillo’s “Zero K.”

“The future implications of a couple of companies’ having such deep influence on our attention and our behavior are only beginning to be felt. The rise of artificial intelligence combined with Google’s omnipresence in our lives is an issue that is not well understood by politicians or regulators.”

“America is slowly waking up both culturally and politically to the takeover of our economy by a few tech monopolies. We know we are being driven by men like Peter Thiel and Jeff Bezos toward a future that will be better for them. We are not sure that it will be better for us.”

“Somehow the citizens of the world have been left out of this discussion of our future. Because tools like Google and Facebook have become so essential and because we have almost no choice in whether to use them, we need to consider the role they play in our lives. By giving networks like Google and Facebook control of the present, we cede our freedom to choose our future.”

Want more? You can read the full article here

The Future

Writing Techniques

I tend to keep a few “gems,” articles that inspire me, make me think, and just stir things up. One of them is one I read and reread, simply because it does what it promises to do.

The New York Times Sunday Review piece, “Novelists Predict Future With Eerie Accuracy,” appeared earlier this decade, but each time I read, I’m staggered by how prescient it is.

Here is part of what writer John Schwartz shares:

“The dirty little secret of speculative fiction is that it’s hard to go wrong predicting that things will get worse. But while avoiding the nihilism of novels like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” in which a father and son wander a hopeless post-apocalyptic moonscape, a number of recent books foresee futures that seem more than plausible as the nation’s ambient level of weirdness rises.”

“In “Ready Player One,” the novelist Ernest Cline extrapolates from the ripples that rising energy prices and climate change send through the economy, and gives us a future where the suburbs die off and many people are packed into in high-rise urban trailer parks, spending their days on an increasingly addictive Internet instead of facing the quotidian squalor. Readers who spend so much time issuing updates via Twitter, Facebook and Google+ that they have forgotten what their spouses look like might see themselves reflected in Mr. Cline’s funhouse mirror. “I did try to envision it as a possible future,” Mr. Cline said. I don’t see it as a future we’re necessarily headed for.”

 

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Making a Difference

Air Force Academy head to racists Get out CNN Video

Most Americans will say they are “for” racial equality. But to borrow a term coined by an American president decades ago, they (we) are the silent majority.

My sense is that many people want to “do” something beyond treating all individuals they encounter with dignity and self-worth.

That’s OK for most of us, but when someone is in a leadership position, not speaking up become silent ascent.

That’s why I was so taken by the remarks by Lieutenant General  Jay Silveria, the superintendent of the US Air Force Academy, who made a sharp statement to cadets after racial slurs were discovered on students’ rooms. This short video will make you think.

Serial Disruption

BN-AZ316_crovit_P_20140105125131

I’m a non-tech guy now working in a high-tech organization. Often, my head spins when I see the kind of technologies that are now changing our lives.

That’s why I was so taken by and article entitled, “Disruption Is the New Normal.” Here’s part of what the writer said:

On a trip over the holidays, my wife rolled her eyes when I realized we’d left the Garmin at home and said we’d have to get a GPS for the rental car. She pointed to the Google Maps app on her mobile phone and said: “I bet this works even better.” It did. We benefited from the kind of technological disruption that is great for consumers, but brutal for businesses trying to survive rapid change and perhaps impossible for government regulators trying to keep up.

A generation ago, the Rand McNally atlas was the state of the art in navigation. Then Garmin, TomTom and other innovators developed satellite-based GPS devices. But barely a decade later, Google added constantly updated navigation to its maps and made them easily accessible as an app on mobile phones for the unbeatable price point of zero. The market value of stand-alone GPS makers fell as much as 85%.

This is the radical new normal for business, according to authors Larry Downes and Paul Nunes. “Before the information age, conventional wisdom held that new markets were created from the top down,” they write in their new book, “Big Bang Disruption.” Analog-era business strategies have been disrupted. Business guru Michael Porter once told companies they could get competitive advantage if they picked one strategy among premium pricing, cost savings or focusing on market niches. In the 1990s, Clayton Christensen urged executives to overcome what he called the innovator’s dilemma by moving fast once newcomers entered markets with lower-quality, lower-priced products.

But powerful new technologies like cloud computing and big data allow entrepreneurs to develop products and services that are “simultaneously better, cheaper, and more customized,” Messrs. Downes and Nunes write. “This isn’t disruptive innovation. It’s devastating innovation.”

Intrigued? You can read the entire article here.

Men and Women

shutterstock_562464553

Most would agree that men and women are different. That notion is a bit of a no-brainer. And most would also agree that male writers and female writers bring different skills to the craft.

But for me, I never thought deeply about just what those differences were between male writers and female writers. That’s why I found a recent piece by Nicole Krauss, “Do Women Get to Write With Authority?” so intriguing. Here is part of what she shared:

On forms to be filled out in waiting rooms, I always hesitate over the question of occupation: writer or author? For years it was only writer; now it’s a question of mood. Writer forever has her work ahead of her. Author has already done it. Writer bears no great claim: Like anyone else, she is just scrabbling away at it, unsure, experimenting. Author comes with distinction, and the right to expect that she will be read. Now, though, I think the perceived honor of the word is wrapped up in “author” sounding like a chip off the granite block of authority.

Both “author” and “authority” evolved from the Latin “augere” — to increase, to originate — and expanded in “author” to be someone who invents or causes something. Which returns me to a question that bothered me to no end when I was younger: Who gives her the right? Or more like: How does she take it? How does she claim for herself the authority to increase or originate, or invent or cause something, such as a book that people will read?

Want more? You can read the full article here.

American Dream

Lots of ink has been spilled on the idea of “The American Dream.” And there has been more heat than light on the subject. That’s why I found Peggy Noonan’s thoughts so enlightening. Here is part of what she said:

I want to think aloud about the American dream. People have been saying for a while that it’s dead. It’s not, but it needs strengthening. We should start by saying what it means, which is something we’ve gotten mixed up about. I know its definition because I grew up in the heart of it and remember how people had long understood it. The American dream is the belief, held by generation after generation since our beginning and reanimated over the decades by waves of immigrants, that here you can start from anywhere and become anything. In America you can rise to the heights no matter where and in what circumstances you began. You can go from the bottom to the top.

Behind the dream was another belief: America was uniquely free, egalitarian and arranged so as to welcome talent. Lincoln was elected president in part because his supporters brought lengths of crude split-rails to the Republican National Convention in Chicago in 1860. They held the rails high and paraded them in a floor demonstration to tell everyone: This guy was nothing but a frontier rail splitter, a laborer, a backwoods nobody. Now he will be president. What a country. What a dream.

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Nerd or Normal?

13SOFTSKILLS-master768

You know the stereotype – the computer nerd. He’s (it’s always a “he,” right?), writes the computer code that enables the digital devices that we now can’t live without.

But we don’t want to meet him. He’s a young guy with no social skills who’s a loner who doesn’t want to have contact with others.

That’s pretty much the opinion that I had, and that’s why I was so intrigued by a recent New York Times article, “Tech’s Damaging Myth of the Loner Genius Nerd.” Here’s part of what the writer had to say:

Interpersonal skills like collaboration, communication, empathy and emotional intelligence are essential to the job. The myth that programming is done by loner men who think only rationally and communicate only with their computers harms the tech industry in ways that cut straight to the bottom line.

The loner stereotype can deter talented people from the industry — not just women, but anyone who thinks that sounds like an unattractive job description. It can also result in dysfunctional teams and poorly performing products. Empathy, after all, is crucial to understanding consumers’ desires, and its absence leads to product mistakes.

Take digital assistants, like Google Home or Amazon Echo. Their programmers need to be able to imagine a huge variety of home situations, whether households with roommates or abusive spouses or children — as made clear when a child ordered a $160 dollhouse and four pounds of sugar cookies on the Echo.

“Basically every step is very collaborative,” said Tracy Chou, who was an engineer at Pinterest and Quora and is now working on start-ups. “Building a big software system, you could have dozens or hundreds or thousands of engineers working on the same code base, and everything still has to work together.” She added, “But not everyone is the same, and that’s where empathy and broader diversity really help.”

Want more? You can read the full article here.