The Bacchanal of Disruption
Leon Wieseltier writes a wonderfully provocative lead essay in today’s New York Times Book Review:
“The discussion of culture is being steadily absorbed into the discussion of business,” Wieseltier writes.” There are “metrics” for phenomena that cannot be metrically measured. Numerical values are assigned to things that cannot be captured by numbers. Economic concepts go rampaging through noneconomic realms: Economists are our experts on happiness! Where wisdom once was, quantification will now be.”
On “scientism, which is not the same as science:”
“The notion that the nonmaterial dimensions of life must be explained in terms of the material dimensions, and that nonscientific understandings must be translated into scientific understandings if they are to qualify as knowledge, is increasingly popular inside and outside the university, where the humanities are disparaged as soft and impractical and insufficiently new.”
On American intellectuals:
“Aside from issues of life and death, there is no more urgent task for American intellectuals and writers than to think critically about the salience, even the tyranny, of technology in individual and collective life. All revolutions exaggerate, and the digital revolution is no different. We are still in the middle of the great transformation, but it is not too early to begin to expose the exaggerations, and to sort out the continuities from the discontinuities. The burden of proof falls on the revolutionaries, and their success in the marketplace is not sufficient proof. Presumptions of obsolescence, which are often nothing more than the marketing techniques of corporate behemoths, need to be scrupulously examined.”
Discover the Cosmos
I love this photo from the Peak Terskol Observatory located in the northern Caucasus Mountains of Russia.
Photo Caption: Observatory, Mountains, Universe
Image Credit & Copyright: Boris Dmitriev (Night Scape)
Explanation: “The awesomeness in this image comes in layers. The closest layer, in the foreground, contains the Peak Terskol Observatory located in the northern Caucasus Mountains of Russia. The white dome over the 2-meter telescope is clearly visible. The observatory is located on a shoulder of Mt. Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe, with other peaks visible in a nearby background layer. Clouds are visible both in front of and behind the mountain peaks. The featured three-image composite panorama was taken in 2014 August. Far in the distance is the most distant layer: the stars and nebulas of the night sky, with the central band of the Milky Way rising on the image right.”
Gifts Readers Really Want for Christmas
I think I would have to agree with this fun post by Kelly Gallucci at Bookish, of ten gifts that readers really want for Christmas. My favorite is the first on the list, which is the only a pair of noise canceling headphones for reading in crowded public spaces.
The Art of Stillness
"At some point, all the horizontal trips in the world stop compensating for the need to go deep, into somewhere challenging and unexpected; movement makes most sense when grounded in stillness. In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing could feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”
— Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness
Books of the Year
It’s the time of year when various media outlets begin to list their picks of the best books of the year. The New York Times Book Review has compiled its annual list of the year’s 100 best. Amazon has made its list.
Book-lovers will also enjoy NPR’s new tool: Book Concierge. NPR staff and critics select 250 favorites from 2014 and present them in a very useful app. Readers can use filters to find specific subjects and genres.
Wolf at the Door?
Should journalism worry about content marketing? That’s the question posed by the in-depth cover story in the Nov/Dec issue of the Columbia Journalism Review: Wolf at the Door.
Author Michael Meyer examines the content marketing efforts being conducted on behalf of many well-known consumer brands and compares what they do to traditional journalism.
“Everyone I talked to for this piece seems to agree that some essential distinction between journalism and content marketing needs to be preserved, but no one agrees on exactly what that distinction should be.” Meyer takes a look at content marketing being done by Nestlé Purina PetCare’s team, Chipotle, and others. It is a very good look at today’s publishing environment: “content marketing,” “native advertising,” “branded journalism,” etc.
“As content marketers grow more sophisticated, they will continue to adopt the trappings of journalism if not the journalistic mission, creating a world in which more and more content looks and feels the same but in fact isn’t,” writes Meyer. “The truth is, we’ve always been out there in the information landscape on our own, choosing what to trust and what to ignore. The difference now is that there are fewer distinct features, fewer landmarks to guide us. Instead, we have labels. The landscape is flattening, and flattening fast.”
What is Philosophy For?
The 50 Year Argument
Directed by Martin Scorsese, the HBO documentary “The 50 Year Argument" examines the history of The New York Review of Books. Wow.
The Sense of Style
Steven Pinker’s latest book, The Sense of Style, may be a bit of a departure for the author but I’m still excited to read it. (In fact I’m already on page 57.) The subtitle offers further description: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Pinker is a wonderful writer himself. As he states in his introduction, the book isn’t a reference book or a style guide. Instead it highlights what makes good writing and why it is still so important to be able to communicate clearly, with a bit of style and personality. Here is a partial book description from Barnes and Noble.
“Why is so much writing so bad, and how can we make it better? Is the English language being corrupted by texting and social media? Do the kids today even care about good writing? Why should any of us care?
“In The Sense of Style, the bestselling linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker answers these questions and more. Rethinking the usage guide for the twenty-first century, Pinker doesn’t carp about the decline of language or recycle pet peeves from the rulebooks of a century ago. Instead, he applies insights from the sciences of language and mind to the challenge of crafting clear, coherent, and stylish prose.”
Marie Howe On Being
Krista Tippett’s recent guest on her show, On Being, was Marie Howe, the State Poet of New York and instructor at Sarah Lawrence College. It’s a wonderful interview about the power and mystery of poetry. Here she reads a new poem called “Magdelene-The Seven Devils," her interpretation from the only mention of Mary Magdalene in the Bible.
“Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven devils had been cast out” —Luke 8:2.