Just a quick thought.
As we all awaited the SupremeCourt decision on the Affordable Care Act, many of us (yes, me included) got our news from the Scotusblog. The Scotusblog live blog was practically indispensable on that very important news story. And, yes, they got it right.
And, today when Anderson Cooper came out, he chose to do so on a blog — Andrew Sullivan’s blog.
We have arrived at the point where the right blog can be a legitimate news source. With the Scotusblog example, we learn the value of “narrow expertise.” And with Sullivan’s blog, if you have followed him at all, you know that he has a remarkable ability to take a major theme and find just the details we need as he runs with that theme. He has done this in a number of ways, with a number of stories.
Just one way the world keeps changing.
Millions are becoming premodern — communicating in electronic grunts that substitute for effective and dignified expression.
Victor David Hanson
People are starved for the practical. They want to know what to put into practice now to build a better, more successful tomorrow. They are impatient; they have little time to reflect, ponder… they want to “do it,” they want to “just do it,” and they want it done by this afternoon.
And they are impatient in every way. Like… why spend all those semesters studying subjects in school that do not have immediate, practical application?
As a result, the “liberal arts” are in trouble. And, in my opinion, this is a bad development, maybe a devastating one.
Andrew Sullivan has treated this as a recent major theme on his blog, with multiple posts, with excerpts from opinion leader and readers responses. With his post The Use of Uselessness, Andrews linked to this article in the National Review Online, In Defense of the Liberal Arts: the therapeutic Left and the utilitarian Right both do disservice to the humanities, by Victor David Hanson. I really do encourage you to read the entire article. Here are a number of excerpts – worth reading for a Sunday reflection:
In such a climate, it is unsurprising that once again we hear talk of cutting the “non-essentials” in our colleges, such as Latin, Renaissance history, Shakespeare, Plato, Rembrandt, and Chopin. Why do we cling to the arts and humanities in a high-tech world in which we have instant recall at our fingertips through a Google search and such studies do not guarantee sure 21st-century careers?
But the liberal arts train students to write, think, and argue inductively, while drawing upon evidence from a shared body of knowledge. Without that foundation, it is harder to make — or demand from others — logical, informed decisions about managing our supercharged society as it speeds on by.
Without links to our heritage, we in ignorance begin to think that our own modern challenges — the war in Afghanistan, gay marriage, cloning, or massive deficits — are unique and not comparable to those solved in the past.
And without citizens broadly informed by the humanities, we descend into a pyramidal society. A tiny technocratic elite on top crafts everything from cell phones and search engines to foreign policy and economic strategy. A growing mass below has neither understanding of the present complexity nor the basic skills to question what they are told.
On the other hand, pragmatists argued that our 20-year-old future CEOs needed to learn spreadsheets rather than why Homer’s Achilles did not receive the honors he deserved, or how civilization was lost in fifth-century Rome and 1930s Germany. But Latin or a course in rhetoric might better teach a would-be captain of industry how to dazzle his audience than a class in Microsoft PowerPoint.
The more instantaneous our technology, the more we are losing the ability to communicate. Twitter and text-messaging result in economy of expression, not in clarity or beauty. Millions are becoming premodern — communicating in electronic grunts that substitute for effective and dignified expression. Indeed, by inventing new abbreviations and linguistic shortcuts, we are losing a shared written language altogether, in a way analogous to the fragmentation of Latin as the Roman Empire imploded into tribal provinces. No wonder the public is drawn to stories like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, in which characters speak beautifully and believe in age-old values.
I teach Speech at the Community College Level. I lead Presentation Skills training sessions for corporate clients. I start both in the same way – with Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric (“finding the available means of persuasion”), and the centrality of logos, ethos, and pathos. This foundational understanding of persuasion is still the best there is – and it always will be. Understanding the foundations really is important. And, after that, we can get to the practical, the “how to…” Skipping the foundations is simply skipping too far ahead.
I think we need to save some time for something deeper than, more timeless, than, the immediately practical. Don’t you?
As of tomorrow, Andrew Sullivan will have been blogging for 10 years. His current home, The Daily Dish, is hosted by The Atlantic. His output is way beyond human. I can barely keep up with Bob Morris on our own blog, and Andrew Sullivan makes Bob look like a weekend hobbyist.
Sullivan is a conservative, accused of going too far left, and always thoughtful. (except for his crazy tangents, like those regarding beards…)
This blog is focused on business subjects – primarily thoughts that connect to and /or flow from business books and business authors. But I read widely, and if you have never read Andrew Sullivan, you would find his column coming up to his 10th anniversary worth the read. Just think – 10 years of blogging! With substantial thoughts to share time and time and time again. You simply have to admire that.
So, congratulations, Andrew.
Here is the article, up to the list of the top seven. The article lists many others, by decade. Admittedly it is, as all lists, subjective. Kevin Kelly posted it on his CoolTools blog. I have not read all of these seven, and they are definitely going into my “to read” stack.
The Best Magazine Articles Ever
The following are suggestions for the best magazine articles (in English) ever. Stars denote how many times a correspondent has suggested it. Submitter comments are in italics.
This is a work in progress. It is an on-going list of suggestions collectively made by readers of this post. At this point the list has not been vetted or selected by me. In fact, other than the original five items I suggested, all of the articles mentioned here have been recommended by someone other than me. (Although I used to edit Wired magazine none of the articles from Wired were suggested by me or anyone who worked at Wired. I also did not suggest my own pieces.)
This list is incomplete though it is getting quite long. You may notice that your favorite author or piece is missing. This is easy to fix. Simply recommend your favorite magazine articles to me via email: . Or if your favorite article is already listed, use the same form to recommend it in order to elevate it to the “top”. At some point in a few weeks I’ll close the nominations.
The Top Seven Articles Based on the number of times an article is recommended
****** David Foster Wallace, “Federer As Religious Experience.” The New York Times, Play Magazine, August 20, 2006.
***** David Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster.” Gourmet Magazine, Aug 2004.
***** Neal Stephenson, “Mother Earth, Mother Board: Wiring the Planet.” Wired, December 1996. On laying trans-oceanic fiber optic cable.
****** Gay Talese, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” Esquire, April 1966.
**** Ron Rosenbaum, “Secrets of the Little Blue Box.” Esquire, October 1971. The first and best account of telephone hackers, more amazing than you might believe.
**** Jon Krakauer, “Death of an Innocent: How Christopher McCandless Lost His Way in the Wilds.” Outside Magazine, January 1993. Article that became Into the Wild.
**** Edward Jay Epstein, “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” Atlantic Magazine, February 1982. Diamonds, De Beers, monopoly & marketing.
Andrew Sullivan recommended this article, As We May Think by Vannevar Bush from the July 1945 issue of the Atlantic, and included this quote:
Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.
And I would include the original articles (both led to books) The Long Tail by Chris Anderson and Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. And, of course, I would remind our readers that we link to the Malcom Gladwell and Atul Gawande archives, which you can find always on the right side of our blog.
And I would also recommend the David Halberstam article from the July, 1969 Harper’s, The Very Expensive Education of McGeorge Bundy.
It’s Saturday. The weekend is upon us, and I read wherever the links take me. And I think back over the week, think about what I heard, read, learned… So – here is a Saturday edition of Randy’s “let’s just think about some stuff…”
1. The office is disappearing. That’s the conclusion of Seth Godin, and it was so “big,” and yet, once you read it, you knew he was certainly correct, that it even got picked up by Andrew Sullivan (The Office, RIP: Seth Godin gives the last rites). Sullivan writes about a lot of different topics all the time, but seldom about business issues — so this is notable.
Here’s what Godin wrote (click on the link to understand his #7 comment):
If we were starting this whole office thing today, it’s inconceivable we’d pay the rent/time/commuting cost to get what we get. I think in ten years the TV show ‘the Office’ will be seen as a quaint antique.
When you need to have a meeting, have a meeting. When you need to collaborate, collaborate. The rest of the time, do the work, wherever you like.
The gain in speed, productivity and happiness is massive. What’s missing is #7… someplace to go. Once someone figures that part out, the office is dead.
2. The desktop computer is disappearing. That’s the conclusion of Farhod Manjoo, Slate.com’s technology writer. (I’m a big fan of his writing – I understand it!)
In the last decade, portable computers have erased many of the advantages that desktops once claimed while desktops have been unable to overcome their one glaring deficiency—by definition, these machines are chained to your desk.
Amazingly, by 2015, desktops will constitute just 18 percent of the consumer PC market…
In just three years’ time, tablets are projected to outsell desktops, becoming the second-largest PC category after laptops. This sounds crazy until you consider that Apple alone is already selling 1 million tablets a month.
He’s right, of course. I now read as many articles on my iPhone as I do on my desktop. I suspect I will have an iPad before too long.
But, let me describe how I work. I wonder if any others out there work the same way. I do fine with my portable devices for “input.” I read my e-mail, read articles, find information. I read both the Godin post and the Manjoo post on my iPhone. But for “output” – blog posts, e-mails, preparing handouts to go along with my presentations, I want/need my desktop. (I’m a Mac guy – I’m now on about my 5th Apple over a long period of time; and I love my iMac. I’ve never warmed to the keyboard/mouse in a laptop, and practically refuse to work on one when I “have to.”’ I’ve never owned one).
Recently, I heard Ron Holifield, CEO of Strategic Government Resources, describe two different kinds of workers. Those who work “from the shoulders down,” and those who work “from the shoulders up.” This is a really clear, graphic image. Increasingly, those who work “from the shoulders up,” can work anywhere there is a connection. Which is just about anywhere. They won’t need an office – and they won’t need a desktop. They will just need to be connected.
As for where all of your stuff will be – it will be in the cloud. So it will be available anywhere, anytime… (I’ve got every one of my book handouts, and a whole lot more, available to me on my iPhone and/or from any connected computer anywhere, through my MobileMe account. Yes, I could do the same for free on Google Docs, but MobileMe does a whole lot more, and it is so easy to use with my iMac! It is worth the cost).
And just for fun, let me remind you of a few of the fantasy communication devices we all remember. Dick Tracy had a wristwatch that allowed for live visual face-to-face communication (you know – where you could talk and see each other at the same time). The new iPhone will now actually have capability. Captain Kirk had this hand-held device that he could flip open and say “Beam me up, Scotty.” By the time Captain Picard arrived, he just tapped a spot on his uniform. No more clumsy, too large, inconvenient flip-open communication device.
The communication devices/reading devices/working devices are getting stronger, faster, smaller, less obtrusive, easier to use, seemingly by the week. Tomorrow is arriving faster by the minute.
What books have had the greatest influence on your thinking, and your life? This is a commonly asked question, and at the moment it is “flying” around the blogosphere. A number of well-known bloggers, many of them so known for their political views, have answered this question.
Here is Andrew Sullivan’s compilation of the responses by a sampling of bloggers. The list includes:
John Stuart Mill, Autobiography
Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals
Dune by Frank Herbert
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns — Frank Miller
Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian Wars
Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man
Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained
George Orwell’s essays.
It is worth reading. (I especially liked the reference to Orwell’s essays).
But it was this response that especially intrigued me. It came from the young columnist for the Washington Post, Ezra Klein, age 25 (the same age as my youngest son), and rapidly rising in influence. I suspect his age has plenty to say about what shaped these paragraphs, and it definitely indicates a shift from books to other types of material. The premise is the same – somebody wrote words strung together in sentences that had an impact of the reader. But in this era, the delivery mechanism may be less and less that of a book. Here’s what Klein wrote:
I’ve written this sort of thing before. The mainstays on my list are John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” Tom Geoghegan’s “Which Side Are You On?,” Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity,” Richard Ben Cramer’s “What It Takes” and maybe a handful of others.
But I always feel like a fraud.
These books meant a lot to me, but they were much less influential in my thinking — particularly in my current thinking — than a variety of texts that carry consider less physical heft. Years spent reading the Washington Monthly, American Prospect and New Republic transformed me from someone interested in politics into someone interested in policy. So, too, did bloggers like, well, Matthew Yglesias, Kevin Drum and Tyler Cowen. In fact, Cowen, Brad DeLong, Mark Thoma and a variety of other economics bloggers also get credit for familiarizing me with a type of basic economic analysis that’s consistently present in my approach to new issues.
Much of my emphasis on the institutions of American government and the processes by which they work (or don’t) came from my relationship with Mark Schmitt, first through his blog and then through his editorship at the American Prospect. That was cemented, of course, by reporting deeply on health-care reform, which is an opportunity that TAP gave me but that few other outlets would’ve been even mildly interested in letting me pursue. I consider reading the blogger Demosthenes use the word “props” in relation to politics as something near to an epiphany; it was the first time I realized that I could speak about Washington in a language I recognized.
Going forward, I wonder how common canons like mine will become. Twenty years ago, someone with my interests would’ve spent a lot more time reading books because blogs simply didn’t exist yet. Magazines were around, but the advent of the Web led to daily content, so I’ve also spent more time reading those. But I can’t deny it: So much as I love my favorite books, the biggest influences in my thinking have been the continuous intellectual relationships I’ve had with blogs, periodicals and other people. Books aren’t even that close.
So, I ask myself – are books, or other means of thought delivery, having the most influence on my thinking these days? I’m not sure.