Jonah Lehrer And The Poverty Of “Big Ideas”
Lehrer spent much of August writing about the affair, trying to figure out where it had all gone wrong. He came to the conclusion that he’d stretched himself too thin. His excuses fall along those lines: He told Seife that his plagiarized blog post was a rough draft he’d posted by mistake. And his latest explanation for those fabricated Dylan quotes is that he had written them into his book proposal and forgotten to fix them later. Even by his own account, then, the writing wasn’t his top priority.
The lectures, though, were increasingly important. Lehrer gave between 30 and 40 talks in 2010, all while meeting constant deadlines, starting a family, and buying a home in the Hollywood Hills. It was more than just a time suck; it was a new way of orienting his work. Lehrer was the first of the Millennials to follow his elders into the dubious promised land of the convention hall, where the book, blog, TED talk, and article are merely delivery systems for a core commodity, the Insight.
The Insight is less of an idea than a conceit, a bit of alchemy that transforms minor studies into news, data into magic. Once the Insight is in place—Blink, Nudge, Free, The World Is Flat—the data becomes scaffolding. It can go in the book, along with any caveats, but it’s secondary. The purpose is not to substantiate but to enchant.
Full Story: New York Magazine: Proust Wasn’t a Neuroscientist. Neither was Jonah Lehrer
The next big idea? The end of big ideas. See:
The Atlantic: Let’s Cool It With The Big Ideas
(I could swear Wired had a similar column from the editor a couple months ago, but it doesn’t seem to be online and I toss my print editions out after I read them)
Evgeny Morozov: The Naked and the TED
Sci-Fi History: Timeline of Science Fiction Ideas
Technovelgy has an impressive timeline listing the introduction of various concepts in science fiction. Here’s a taste:
1634 Weightlessness (Kepler) (from Somnium (The Dream) by Johannes Kepler)
1638 Weightlessness (Godwin) – first discovery of concept (from The Man in the Moone by Francis Godwin)
1657 Moon Machine – very early description (from A Voyage to the Moon by Cyrano de Bergerac)
1726 Bio-Energy – produce electricity from organic material (from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift)
1726 Laputa – a floating island (from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift)
1726 Knowledge Engine – machine-made expertise (from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift)
1726 Geometric Modeling – eighteenth century NURBS (from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift)
1828 Stage Balloon (from The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century by Henry Loudon)
1828 Steam-Propelled Moving Houses (from The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century by Henry Loudon)
1828 Barrels of Air (from The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century by Henry Loudon)
1828 Mail-Post Letter-Ball (from The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century by Henry Loudon)
1866 Paper Steel (from Robur-the-Conqueror by Jules Verne)
Technovelgy: Timeline of Science Fiction Ideas
(via Boing Boing)
See also: Map of the History of Fantasy and Science Fiction, From Gilgamesh to Battlestar Gallactica
Introducing: Technoccult BrainSwarm
Technoccult BrainSwarm is a brand new experimental project. It’s an idea management system for practically any idea.
Idea management is usually used by corporations looking for customer feedback (Dell’s IdeaStorm and My Starbucks Idea are two examples), or by governments looking for ideas from citizens (such as the White House Open Government Dialogue).
BrainSwarm is a different sort of idea site. It’s not dedicated to generating ideas for any particular government or company. It’s a place for any sort of idea. I hope it can be a launchpad for projects. By posting an idea to BrainSwarm, you can get feedback on an idea, and either find collaborators or just share it and hope someone else picks the idea up.
It’s powered by IdeaScale, which I think is mostly used by government sites. It has a points system, comments and some basic social media integration. If this takes off, I’d be willing to upgrade to a professional account with more features, or possibly work on creating some custom software. Right now I just want to see where this goes.
Crowd sourced package delivery concept
I have mental picture of millions of people driving back and forth to work (and other places) over and over again. It’s almost like Brownian motion. Even if people rarely took long trips, there would be plenty of this routine, back and forth motion to ship all the packages we could possibly want, if only there were a service that gave a percentage of these drivers the right incentives, information, and infrastructure to hand off the packages at the proper moment. USExpress could be that service.
To make this more concrete, I’ll use my father as an example. His commute is about 120 miles, round trip, five days a week. That means he drives 600 miles a week, just going back and forth to work. Suppose that my Dad picked up 5 packages somewhere near home, dropped them off somewhere near work, and then reversed the process on the way back. Let’s say he did that just once per week, forty-five weeks out of one year. By making a few extra stops he will have driven 60 miles with 5 packages 90 times. That’s 27,000 package miles, which I have to think is a lot more package-miles than my parents actually send out every year via existing shipping services.
ram them down: UsExpress, a business idea
(via Global Guerillas)
Your company as your laboratory
When I was at CD Baby, I’d be able to play with new ideas immediately. (“What if we had a $5 sale?” “What if I could co-op card swipers?” “What if I could go multi-lingual?”) Any time I had an idea, I’d be able to test it out within days.
But now, for the first time in 10 years, since I had no company, I couldn’t test out these new ideas! All I could do was read, think, and maybe write about it. Damn!
Then I realized why I need to start a new company. Not for the money. Not because I’m “bored”. But because a company is a laboratory to try your ideas. (The word “laboratory” is defined as a room for research, experimentation or analysis. I think of it as a sandbox or playpen.)
Derek Sivers: Why you need your own company
(via Josh Kaufman)
43 Folders: Living in XML
43 Folders discussion of using RSS feeds for calenders, todo lists, etc.
I wrote a draft proposal for Evergreen when I worked in the IT department for a web based PIM system for students that would output RSS feeds. The main reason for this was that students could then use the feeds anyway they like – on PDAs, any OS, etc.
I still think it’s a great idea for helping college students get organized. If I get this new job, I’ll have to dig out that proposal and check some of the apps from this thread.