NYT 100

The New York Time’s 100 notable books for 2015. I’ve read none of them, but The Story of the Lost Child (the series) and SPQR are on my list. 

Reclaiming Conversation And The App Generation

MIT’s Sherry Turkle makes a convincing argument that our increasing reliance on our devices, and in particular our phones, is diminishing our ability to engage in conversation, relate with each other, engage in solitude (as opposed to loneliness), and it seems for the generation now coming of age, feel empathy. From the New York Times piece to which I’ve linked above:

Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.

In 2010, a team at the University of Michigan led by the psychologist Sara Konrath put together the findings of 72 studies that were conducted over a 30-year period. They found a 40 percent decline in empathy among college students, with most of the decline taking place after 2000.

One of her main assertions is that there is a relationship between solitude and connection. That being in solitude allows us the time and space for inner dialogue and to know ourselves, and that this knowledge is essential to being able to know and have conversation with others. The omnipresent capacity for distraction that our devices provide damages this connection by limiting or distorting our ability to be alone with our thoughts. As she puts it, “if we don’t know how to be alone, we’ll only know how to be lonely.”

Turkle is no slouch, and I can see much of what she describes in those around me, and in particular, in my own son. He’s a young boy growing up as a member of what we may one day call the app generation. As he is more and more exposed to tablets and phones, and the apps (often games) for which he uses them, I’ve noticed that he increasingly struggles with simply being alone, with being able to create and play without technology, with finding value in just talking with others. He’s a bright kid, and a very sensitive one. He’s good with people. But I feel like I can see him changing before my eyes. He’s now increasingly likely to be bored without a device in his hands. This doesn’t strike me as a change for the better.

I grew up with video games. I loved playing them as a kid into adulthood, and I still do. And I don’t want to believe I’m a stooge about electronically mediated communication, devices, and the sophisticated software we blithely call apps. But reading this article a few months back, and watching my son today, I’m reminded of two presentations I’ve seen. The first was last year, and was by a respected video game designer. This presentation was about gamification and how the underlying logic of games and apps was increasingly being designed with intentional addiction in mind – to ensure your repeated use and return over time. The second was several years ago and was by an eminent neuroscientist. His presentation was about neuroplasticity, and how what we do repeatedly causes changes in our brain structure, creating increased ability to do new things at the expense of our ability to do other things. These talks, along with Turkle’s arguments, worry me. They worry me that we’re unintentionally raising a generation of kids who will have amazing capacity to seek information, navigate and solve problems, and use technology, at the cost of being unable to think about what information means, conceive of problems worth solving, and master technology rather than be shackled by it.

I held a conference a few months back where one of the topics for discussion was “Something everyone thinks is right but I think is wrong.” This may be one of those things. My kids are already on a weekly ration of time for passive entertainment, be it via television or device. But now I’m wondering if that’s enough. Maybe the whole family needs a sabbatical from our devices. A “if you’re not creating or reading with it, don’t use it” rule for a while. Text is not a telephone conversation, and Clash of Clans is not pong, and the diffusion of new technologies now far outpaces our ability to develop and diffuse rational norms for their use. Maybe we all need to take a break from it for a while, see how that goes, and use the time to figure out the best possible use of these wonders going forward.

In the meantime, I’m reading Turkle’s latest book. I’ll try to review it here when I’m done.

Behind The Magic Curtain

I found this article yesterday while going through some of my archives. It’s nearly 10 years old now, but still worth reading. People wonder why Steve Jobs was such a spectacular presenter. It’s because he worked his ass off.

Steve usually rehearses on the two days before a keynote. On the first day he works on the segments he feels need the most attention. The product managers and engineering managers for each new product are in the room, waiting for their turn. This group also forms Steve’s impromptu test audience: he’ll often ask for their feedback. He spends a lot of time on his slides, personally writing and designing much of the content, with a little help from Apple’s design team.

As each segment of the show is refined, Steve and his producer edit the slides live on a PowerBook so the revised slides can be used immediately. That day Steve was very methodical, going through every aspect of the show. He would test variations of content and flow, looking for the combinations with the most impact. When introducing a major new product, he also liked to show the TV commercial Apple would be using to promote it. Often these had been finished just minutes before rehearsals; Steve would sometimes preview alternate versions to gauge the team’s reaction before deciding which to use.

On the day before showtime, things get much more structured, with at least one and sometimes two complete dress rehearsals. Any non-Apple presenters in the keynote take part on the second day (although they cannot be in the room while the secret parts – the unveiling of hot ticket hardware such as a new iPod or laptop – are being rehearsed.) Throughout it all Steve is extremely focused. While we were in that room, all his energy was directed at making this keynote the perfect embodiment of Apple’s messages. Steve doesn’t give up much of his personality even in rehearsals. He is strictly business, most of the time.

A Comparison Of Three Mission Statements

I collect mission statements. Here are three from the collection.

The Economist:

“To take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.”

Eisenhower’s “Commander’s Intent” for the liberation of Europe:

“You will enter the continent of Europe and, in conjunction with the other United Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.”

Microsoft:

“Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

Levi’s Giving

Go to this page at Levis.com, print off a free shipping label, slap it on a box full of used clothes, and Levi’s will cover the shipping to the nearest Goodwill location. They’ll also make a $5 donation to boot.

Wines Til Sold Out

Good, great, and even extraordinary wines, on sale at deep discounts, offered one at a time, until they’re gone. Wines Til Sold Out is catnip for the online oenophile.wtso-logo

The Filson Meridian Duffle

Meridian 1

I have a weakness for bags, duffles in particular. I’ve wanted a Filson bag for some time, and finally after some cajoling from a good friend I ordered the Meridian Duffle. I searched far and wide for a review of this bag, and only found one, so I’m posting this in case it might be of interest to others thinking about picking up the same bag.

So far the Meridian and I have made just one trip together, a two-night, two-day visit to San Francisco. I typically use a wheeled two-suiter for business travel, but was eager to try out the new bag for business to see how easy it was to carry and how well it could hold dress shirts without wrinkling them. The bag was a delight to use, practical and stylish, and it handled my shirts and other gear without problem. (Note that when packing a duffle I fold my dress shirts like this. To even better prevent wrinkles, place a folded undershirt in the dress shirt before making the first upward fold – step 6 in the linked how-to – and the added bulk will help keep horizontal creases from forming.)

In terms of getting around, the Filson tin cloth is a bit lighter than their traditional canvas, and the bag is light given that it’s canvas, brass, and leather. It’s easy to carry in the hand, with the shoulder strap (either over the shoulder or like a messenger bag), or by putting the handles directly over the shoulder. Soft-sided as it is it molds to your body a bit, and it fit easily in the overhead compartment sliding straight in. In a pinch, you could get it under the seat in front of you on most airlines. It also has brass feet, which eases your mind when you’re dropping it on the pavement.

Meridian 3  Meridian 4  Meridian 5

Filson quality is legend, so I won’t go into the details of make, fit, and finish other than to say the quality was as I expected (excellent) and the bag is beautiful. There are some shots of the details above for the curious. The bag has a zipper exterior pocket that’s eight or nine inches deep and nearly square. It’s plenty big for a cellphone, small notebook, kindle, travel billfold, or airline tickets (folded). On the inside of the bag there are two open pockets (one on each end) which make stowing a dopp kit, umbrella, hat, etc. easy.

The bag holds a lot given its size, likely as much as my 22-inch roll-aboard for most trips. For this trip on the return leg I packed:

  • Dress shoes and belt
  • No-drop workout shoes (minimalist)
  • Three pair socks and two pair briefs
  • Two tee shirts
  • Workout shorts and workout shirt
  • A suit (pants and jacket)
  • A knee-length top coat
  • Two folded dress shirts
  • Dopp kit
  • 1 quart liquids bag
  • A small umbrella

… and still had room to spare.

Meridian 2

One thing to note about this bag is that if you get the tan finish as I did, you can expect it to pick up marks and stains. That patina makes it even more beautiful, but if you’re like me you may have to unlearn any instinct you have to keep it pristine. There is one exception I’ll warn others to look out for (and that other tan Filson owners probably know about): the bag will very quickly pick up indigo dye from any denim against which it repeatedly rubs. In my case one walk through the airport in dark jeans with the bag slung as a messenger bag was enough to do the trick (as you can slightly see in the above shot), and it was more blue than I wanted to chalk up to patina. Some light rubbing with a damp white cloth took off most of the dye without spreading it, but next time I’ll carry the bag over my arm via the handles or in my hand when I’m wearing dark jeans. User error on my part, lesson learned, and the bag now looks even more cool.

Bottom line: a great bag and one that I hope is an heirloom for the kids. I can’t wait to travel with it again next week.