Imagining what the ancient Greek philosopher Plato would think of Google, Fox News, Tiger Moms, and neuroscience might seem like the sort of activity that would appeal only to undergraduate philosophy majors after a few drinks. But the novelist and philosopher Rebecca Goldstein has just attempted the feat of imagining Plato in the modern world for the span of an entire book.
In Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, out this week, Goldstein revives the ancient form of the philosophical dialogue. Plato’s dialogues often explore basic questions about the nature of art, knowledge, love, and education, and as a result, Goldstein’s book ranges from the amusing (Plato carries a Google Chromebook and struggles with small talk) to the serious and ruminative (the Internet’s potential excites him, but he’s disappointed by the way it’s often used).
Goldstein holds a doctorate in philosophy from Princeton, and she has written studies of Spinoza and Gödel. I chatted with Goldstein recently to get Plato’s take on Twitter, the Olympics, novels, and celebrity culture.
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“Twitter is the best and Twitter is the worst.”
This was the response Dr. Marion Underwood, clinical psychologist and University of Texas at Dallas psychology professor, received from one of her 15-year-old daughter’s friends when she asked what the girl thought of the social networking juggernaut.
“I can’t get off of it,” the girl elaborated. “I can’t stop getting on Twitter.”
If these sound like the words of an “addict,” it’s because they (at least kind of) are. Underwood was inspired to take her informal poll after watching the teen in question spend the entirety of her daughter’s birthday party glued to her phone, reading and sending tweets. What’s more, she says that social media can be highly addictive. Millennials are perpetually accused of self-centeredness, but it isn’t self-promotion, in and of itself, that they’re addicted to, Underwood says. It’s the positive reinforcement they receive from peers for doing it. For some teens, however, there’s a source of reinforcement even more addictive—and elusive—than their peers: their favorite celebrities.
Read more. [Image: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP]
When established in 1833, the Town of Chicago incorporated fewer than 200 people into its new borders. Within seven years—the city’s first decennial U.S. census—more than 4,000 people lived there; after another 10 almost 30,000 people did.
The city kept growing, both in size and population. In 1880, half a million people lived within its borders. In 1890, that number had doubled. At the turn of the century, 1.6 million people called themselves Chicagoans, and the city was the fifth largest in the world.
Something happened on the land we call Chicago that had happened nowhere else before. In the span of a lifetime, the city went from nascence to dominance—and since then, people have been trying to figure out what that new place is and what it can be.
… and, perhaps, about the rest of social media, too: “Mobile company” is not an oxymoron.
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Not really, but the speech is but one piece of the spectacle of the State of the Union.
There is a new ubiquitous media brand on Twitter.
No, I’m not talking about Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media or BuzzFeed or The Verge, or any other investor-backed startup.
I’m talking about @HistoryInPics, which, as I discovered, is run by two teenagers: Xavier Di Petta, 17, who lives in a small Australian town two hours north of Melbourne, and Kyle Cameron, 19, a student in Hawaii.
They met hustling on YouTube when they were 13 and 15, respectively, and they’ve been doing social media things together (off and on) since. They’ve built YouTube accounts, making money off advertising. They created Facebook pages such as “Long romantic walks to the fridge,” which garnered more than 10 million Likes, and sold them off. More recently, Di Petta’s company, Swift Fox Labs, has hired a dozen employees, and can bring in, according to an Australian news story, 50,000 Australian dollars a month (or roughly 43,800 USD at current exchange rates).
But @HistoryInPics may be the duo’s biggest creation. In the last three months, this account, which tweets photographs of the past with one-line descriptions, has added more than 500,000 followers to bring their total to 890,000 followers. (The account was only established in July of 2013.) If the trend line continues, they’ll hit a million followers next month.
Let’s talk, for a minute, about favorites. Let’s talk about, in particular, about the nuanced uses of Twitter’s most multifunctional button. People use the star for everything from bookmarking (the save fave) to props-giving (the rave fave) to presence-signaling (the wave fave) to bone-throwing (the favor fave) to chaos-causing (the hate fave, which you could also call the spice-things-up fave, which you could also call the flavor fave).
There are many more uses, too, because the beauty of the fave is its ambiguity. But the most useful of all may be this one: the farewell fave. Which is the fave that signals, subtly, the end of a conversation. Participating in a discussion that you need, for whatever reason, to stop participating in? Fave its last tweet. Find yourself involved in an infinite pun-off? Fave a tweet. Stuck on a Twitter canoe? Fave a tweet. It’s an efficient, and polite, way of announcing, “Aaaand … scene.”
Read more. [Image: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment via IMDB]
He was referring to a pair of opinion pieces—Bill’s, in The New York Times, and Emma’s, in the Guardian—that assess the ethical dimensions of talking about cancer. Both Kellers tell the story of a woman named Lisa Bonchek Adams, who has stage 4 breast cancer and has been tweeting and blogging her experience. (Bill learned about her from Emma; they’re married.) Both Kellers are concerned about Adams—but also, and sometimes seemingly more so, about her tweets. Bill frets about Adams’s “decision to live her cancer onstage,” Emma about her own “voyeurism” toward Adams’s cancer tweets. Both do so in a way that is fairly patronizing both to Adams and to her cancer. Call it cansplaining.
From years of use, people know this: Twitter can be a lot of noise.
But sometimes, to get a tweet just right, to make it fit, I stop and consider the language. In this digital format, we are forced to distill and compress, two poetic virtues that the web rarely requires.
But what if you’re not trying to describe an airport or a sunset, but Beowulf, the (gory, dark) epic Old English poem?
That was the task that Stanford medievalist (and “text technologies”) researcher Elaine Treharne took on. She compressed Beowulf into 100 tweets as part of teaching her course on the many “existing and imagined manifestations” of the work.
“The underlying theoretical question for this course is ‘What is (the) Text?’ What constitutes Beowulf? What is its core and what do we understand by ‘Beowulf’?” she wrote in her explanation of the project. “In some senses, this seeks to address, for Beowulf, F. W. Bateson’s question, ‘If the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre, where then are Hamlet and Lycidas?’”
Robert Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson, two researchers at Michigan Technological University, thought they might. In a study released online last week, the two scoured Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and a few other websites to find “prescient information”—that is, tweets and statuses about current events posted before the events became current. The only way someone could write such a post, they reasoned, is if they were visiting… from the future.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]