Thinker Thoughts: Articles That Made Us Think

Thinker Thoughts is evolving! Every Friday, we’re sharing our 3 favorite reads of the week and what they encouraged us to think about. Give them a think and let us know your thinker thoughts!
What We’ve Been Thinking About This Week
1. Why rule by the people is better than rule by the “experts”…

why democracy is so importantA piece in Aeon, “Treat People as Citizens” (10/18), encourages us to think about what democracy is – and what it should be – arguing that our country’s current model has often underestimated the abilities of ordinary people and instead elevated a “rule by experts” mentality.

As the author notes, “Democracy requires treating people as citizens – that is, as adults capable of thoughtful decisions and moral actions, rather than as children who need to be manipulated.”

The quote:

“Modern people hate to be told: ‘Do it because I say so.’ Alienation from the political process often leads people to identify with strong leaders who claim to represent the silent majority. Across the world, we see political battles between technocrats and populists, experts who claim authority because of their knowledge versus leaders who fight against elites on behalf of the ‘real people’. A third option is democracy, or the notion that flesh-and-blood people can and ought to exercise meaningful power in the governing of common affairs…
The remedy for our democracy deficit is to devolve as much power as possible to the local level. Many problems can be addressed only on the state, federal and international level, but the idea is that participating in local politics teaches citizens how to speak in public, negotiate with others, research policy issues, and learn about their community and the larger circles in which it is embedded. Like any other skill, the way to become a better citizen is to practise citizenship…
In an epistocracy, a few people make all the crucial decisions, and everyone else might as well stay at home and watch television. In a participatory democracy, people exercise their civic muscles and become more thoughtful, involved in community affairs, and passionate about making the world a better place…
The way to learn how to walk is to walk; the way to become a citizen is to exert some kind of power in the government or civil society. There is no technological quick fix to make our society more democratic. To learn what Tocqueville called ‘the art of being free’, people must have a hand in the governance of common affairs.”

2. What it would be like to communicate with someone directly brain-to-brain…

connecting brains via networksA piece in the Wall Street Journal, “The Troubled Marriage of Brains and Computers” (10/19), has us thinking about the creation of “brainets” (i.e. computational networks of connected brains that would enable instant communication or motor tasks between people)…something that we shouldn’t take lightly, according to Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, the article’s author and the Duke School of Medicine Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience and Co-Director of Duke’s Center for Neuroengineering.

The quote:

“…creating a brainet—the stuff of science fiction—isn’t without its perils. Once brains are connected they could become a hackable system in which the thoughts and actions of connected individuals can be accessed and manipulated. In fact, this has already been proved possible. In 2013, two computer scientists at the University of Washington sat in separate rooms wearing caps that connected their brains via the internet. The two men collaboratively played a video game that involved firing a weapon. Scientist A had the controller but couldn’t see the screen; scientist B sat in front of the screen with no controller. Each time scientist B wanted to shoot, he imagined the action, and scientist A’s finger would twitch involuntarily and fire the weapon…
The paradoxical lesson I’ve learned in nearly 30 years of solving problems with technology is this: Technology won’t solve all our problems. The human brain should be revered as something exquisite and unique. We need to rethink the role of digital systems in education and ensure that humans—not machines, or humans joined to them— control the creation and decision-making process for art, science, politics and all the things that define us. Digital technology will never surpass what our brains can do—but it can shape them, and that is the biggest danger.”

3. Algorithms, algorithms, algorithms…

connecting brains via networksAn article in The Atlantic, “The World’s Most Powerful Publishers Refuse to Admit What They Really Are” (10/19), sheds light on Facebook and Google’s efforts to personalize the news we read, warning against the filtration of news tailored specifically to our interests and beliefs, over and above the “truth.”

The quote:

“While news personalization can help people manage information overload by making individuals’ news diets unique, it also threatens to incite filter bubbles and, in turn, bias. This ‘creates a bit of an echo chamber,’ says Judith Donath, author of The Social Machine: Designs for Living Online and a researcher affiliated with Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. ‘You get news that is designed to be palatable to you. It feeds into people’s appetite of expecting the news to be entertaining … [and] the desire to have news that’s reinforcing your beliefs, as opposed to teaching you about what’s happening in the world and helping you predict the future better’…
Information-filtering algorithms, whether those of tech giants or news organizations, are the foundation of personalization efforts. But journalists and technologists approach this info-filtering environment in fundamentally different ways. News organizations share information that is true and hopefully engaging. Technology companies like Google and Facebook enable the sharing of information that is engaging and hopefully true. Emerging technologies will only exacerbate the existing problems with algorithmically promoted junk information…
Personalization should be a way to enhance news decisions made by human editors, professionals committed to quality journalism as a crucial component of an open society. The news-filtering algorithms made by companies that refuse to admit they are even in the media business—let alone in a position to do great harm—aren’t bound to even the most basic journalistic standards. And yet they are the dominant forces filtering the world around us in real time.”

Phrase of the week: “Holding your child’s hand, volunteering in your community, doing your job, appreciating the beauty around you—these are the wellsprings of meaning all of us can tap.”

A new book by Iddo Landau, Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World, takes up the age old question of what it means to lead a meaningful life, suggesting that our modern world has distorted our understanding of what gives us purpose. The above quote comes from the Wall Street Journal book review by Emily Esfahani Smith, a gentle reminder of the understated value of the small, the simple, and the ordinary.

See our previous Thinker Thoughts hereherehere and here, covering everything from Facebook’s domination of the world to the existential question of space travel.

Thinker Thoughts: Articles That Made Us Think

Thinker Thoughts is evolving! Every Friday, we’re sharing our 3 favorite reads of the week and what they encouraged us to think about. Give them a think and let us know your thinker thoughts!

What We’ve Been Thinking About This Week

1. Why we might need to reconsider how much time we spend on our smartphones…

how smartphones affect our mindsAn article in the Wall Street Journal, “How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds” (10/6), has us thinking twice about our dependency on our smartphones, based on recent research that suggests “people’s knowledge and understanding may actually dwindle as gadgets grant them easier access to online data stores.”

The quote:

“It isn’t just our reasoning that takes a hit when phones are around. Social skills and relationships seem to suffer as well. Because smartphones serve as constant reminders of all the friends we could be chatting with electronically, they pull at our minds when we’re talking with people in person, leaving our conversations shallower and less satisfying…
But even in the history of captivating media, the smartphone stands out. It is an attention magnet unlike any our minds have had to grapple with before. Because the phone is packed with so many forms of information and so many useful and entertaining functions, it acts as what Dr. Ward calls a “supernormal stimulus,” one that can “hijack” attention whenever it is part of our surroundings—which it always is. Imagine combining a mailbox, a newspaper, a TV, a radio, a photo album, a public library and a boisterous party attended by everyone you know, and then compressing them all into a single, small, radiant object. That is what a smartphone represents to us. No wonder we can’t take our minds off it…
When we constrict our capacity for reasoning and recall or transfer those skills to a gadget, we sacrifice our ability to turn information into knowledge. We get the data but lose the meaning. Upgrading our gadgets won’t solve the problem. We need to give our minds more room to think. And that means putting some distance between ourselves and our phones.”

2. Just how much we’re willing to risk when it comes to space exploration…

space travel risksAn article in The Atlantic, “Space Travel’s Existential Question” (10/10), encourages us to weigh the value we place on space exploration against the cost and sacrifices made by individuals who have lost their lives since NASA’s inception in 1958.

The quote:

“Sometimes, you hear the phrase ‘Failure is not an option’ associated with NASA. But it was never a slogan at the agency; no one in mission control, that we know of, ever said it, and no manager passed it down. It was just a line in the movie Apollo 13. Failure is always an option: It has to be.
Of course, no one wants a rocket to blow up or a crew capsule to fall to Earth. But to undertake space travel, the undertakers have to acknowledge those possibilities and mitigate the risks. As NASA administrator William Gerstenmaier said in his paper ‘Staying Hungry: the Interminable Management of Risk in Human Spaceflight,’ ‘We never simply accept it, but NASA, our stakeholders, and the public must acknowledge the risk as we move forward.’The public, to some extent, also knows that’s the equation. But a 1/200 mission-failure rate means that one doesn’t happen very often, which means that every one comes as a shock.Still, astronauts’ deaths don’t always cause communal moral outrage. ‘A particularly risky venture can become socially acceptable in correlation with the value placed on it,’ Langston wrote in her risk paper. If people value a space-exploration program, in other words, they’re okay with others risking their lives to push it forward.”

3. How millennials are continuing to transform popular culture…

home improvement online classes for millennialsAn article in the Wall Street Journal, “America’s Retailers Have a New Target Customer” (10/10), had us chuckling with the fact that “The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. has started offering gardening lessons for young homeowners that cover basic tips—really, really basic—like making sure sunlight can reach plants.”

The article reports that home goods, appliance and furnishing companies, such as Home Depot, Williams-Sonoma, Sherwin-Williams, etc., are hosting classes and online tutorials to teach millennials basic household maintenance skills they might not have learned growing up, i.e. how to mow the lawn, use a tape measure, mop a floor, hammer a nail and pick a paint color.

The quote:

“This generation, with its over-scheduled childhoods, tech-dependent lifestyles and delayed adulthood, is radically different from previous ones. They’re so different, in fact, that companies are developing new products, overhauling marketing and launching educational programs—all with the goal of luring the archetypal 26-year-old.
‘They grew up playing soccer, having dance recitals and playing an Xbox,’ says Scott’s Mr. King. ‘They probably didn’t spend as much time helping mom and dad out in the yard as their predecessors or their predecessors’ predecessors.’…
Baby boomers changed the consumer-products industry as they grew up, sending diaper sales soaring in the 1960s, buying power suits in the 1980s and luxury cars and handbags in the 2000s. Marketers promised goods and services that would enable boomers’ independent, free spirits.
Millennials are different, though, especially in the rate at which they achieve independence in adulthood. In 2016, just 24% of 25- to 34-year-olds had experienced all four of what the Census Bureau called major life milestones: having lived away from parents, having been married, having lived with a child and being in the labor force.”

Phrase of the week: “Every problem on this planet, including our problem, must be solved with respect and mutually acceptable [solutions].”

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of the Tibetan nation, spoke at a conference of Tibet supporters in northern India this past week, sharing concerns about President Trump’s “America first” policy, while also praising the ideals of liberty, freedom, and democracy. Offering wide ranging remarks on everything from the U.S. to China and the European Union, he aptly noted, “Every problem on this planet, including our problem, must be solved with respect and mutually acceptable [solutions].”

See our previous Thinker Thoughts here, here and here, covering everything from Facebook’s domination of the world to how we might already be living inside a computer.

Thinker Thoughts: Articles That Made Us Think

Thinker Thoughts is evolving! Every Friday, we’re sharing our favorite reads of the week and what they encouraged us to think about. Give them a think and let us know your thinker thoughts!

What We’ve Been Thinking About This Week

1. How Facebook has, quite literally, taken over the world…

how facebook is taking over the worldAn article in New York Magazine, “Does Even Mark Zuckerberg Know What Facebook Is?” (10/2), encourages us to think about the role that Facebook plays in safeguarding democracy and fostering a global community. Read more

Thinker Thoughts: Articles that Made us Think

Thinker Thoughts is evolving! Every Friday, we’re sharing our 3 favorite reads of the week and what they encouraged us to think about. Give them a think and let us know your thinker thoughts!

What We’ve Been Thinking About This Week

1. How our brains react when we experience a beautiful masterpiece…

how our brain responds to balletA fascinating, animated feature in The Washington Post, “This is Your Brain on Art” (9/18), stimulates our brain by examining the science behind our brain’s response to seeing and experiencing art (i.e. ballets, theater shows, etc.). Read more

Thinker Thoughts: Articles that Made us Think

Thinker Thoughts is evolving! Every Friday, we’re sharing our favorite reads of the week and what they encouraged us to think about. Give them a think and let us know your thinker thoughts!

What We’ve Been Thinking About This Week

1. How technology and automated algorithms are robbing us of our humanity…

An essay for The Washington Post, “How Silicon Valley is Erasing Your Individuality” (9/8), forces us to confront the perils and consequences of a world governed by the tech giants (i.e. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple). Read more

Thinker Thoughts: Storm Surge

Given the calamity of last week’s Hurricane Harvey in Houston and this week’s Hurricane Irma pummeling the Southeast, our Thinker Thoughts comes from a commentary in the New York Times (September 3, 2017) entitled,

Climate Science’s View of the Hurricane“, written by Katharine Mach and Miyuki Hino: Read more

Thinker Thoughts: “iGen”

It’s been a busy summer, but we’re excited to be back and grateful for all your support and emails as ATG continues to evolve! 
We’re delving back into our Thinker Thoughts this week, bringing you an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal book review entitled, “An Aversion to Adulting” (August 24, 2017). The book under review is Jean M. Twenge’s iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood: 

Read more