Now that Megan Garber is in place with Alexis Madrigal and Rebecca Rosen over at The Atlantic Tech, it feels a little bit like a major magazine — I don’t know, say The New Yorker — decided to adopt Snarkmarket as its tech, media, and tech/media culture blog.
Since I’m technically a rival, like, it’s one thing to admire them, in a “man, those creeps can roll” sense, or to feel like the posts were written just for me, but yet another to have that uncanny shock of recognition when you see someone doing something that’s somehow more you than you.
Take this Garber story on Thursday’s iBooks announcement, “A Brief History of Textbooks, or, Why Apple’s ‘New Textbook Experience’ Is Actually Revolutionary.” Take the title and the first blockquote — James Bowen’s A History of Western Education, which in turn namechecks Donatus’ grammar, from the 4th century — and it totally seems like Garber is going for the full Carmody. Like, more Carmody than Carmody.
But! Keep reading, because Garber’s going to fool you. She’s actually coming with the full Sloan:
But! That bit of ordinariness is exactly what makes Apple’s education play so transformative. The defining element of textbooks, up to now, has been their commodity status: Being standardized, they’re also impersonal. They’re transient. They’re given to you at the beginning of the school year; you give them back at the end. (Or, worse: You buy them at the beginning of the school year; you sell them back at the end.) Textbooks are not, in any meaningful sense, yours.
In all that, they enforce the notion of the student as a cog and of learning as a machine, and effectively frame education as, first and foremost, an act of consumption rather than exploration. Memorize something — check. Take the test to prove you’ve learned that something — check. Check and check and check.
Inspiring, no? But it’s an approach that’s been as necessary as it’s been frustrating: In an analog environment, wisdom is contingent on memorized information. You have to know things before you can understand things. (Or, as Jay Rosen might put it, “You’ve gotta grok it before you can rock it.”)
Wait, was that Matt Thompson’s kung fu style sneaking in at the end there?… Turn it off, turn it off! It’s all just TOO REAL.
Hi gang. I’m spending the week in residence at kottke.org this week. Here’s what I’ve written so far:
- Napoleonic preproduction: On Stanley Kubrick’s never-filmed movie about Napoleon.
- The Beastie Boys, Annotated: A short guide to pop-culture references in the band’s lyrics.
- Fuck you, pay me (Simonides of Keos): The first Greek poet (probably) to write for money and to write poetry that was primarily intended to be read, not sung.
Join me throughout the week for more bunly blockquote goodness.
The photos at The Big Picture are always stunning, but these pictures of Mount St. Helens are, I think, especially so. Sometimes it feels like we’re living in an age of one ecological disaster after another, and then it’s always instructive to remember the sheer, uncanny, unearthly power of these things. (It helps to have a great Mirah song for your soundtrack.)
Jason Kottke praises one, where you think you might not find it:
Pampers Swaddlers Size N ($14). One of the biggest surprises about having kids was how well-engineered some of this stuff is. The size N diapers from Pampers are a marvel, one of the best-engineered “gadgets” I’ve ever run across…they rival the unibody MacBook Pro in this regard. The Swaddlers are thin, comfortable, fit snugly around the legs, oh-so-soft, and can hold what seems like 18 gallons of liquid.
I’m telling you — the evolution of underwear. I’m telling you.
Scott Eric Kaufman has written two good posts about Mad Men at the Valve, but I want instead to pull what he quotes from Gertrude Stein’s Everybody’s Autobiography, because it is true and because Gavin will like it:
Identity is funny being yourself is funny as you are never yourself to yourself except as you remember yourself and then of course you do not believe yourself. That is really the trouble with an autobiography you do not of course really believe yourself why should you, you know so well so very well that it is not yourself, it could not be yourself because you cannot remember right and if you do remember right it does not sound right and of course it does not sound right because it is not right. You are of course never yourself.
If anyone was ever equal parts Jacques Derrida and William James, it was Gertrude Stein.
In the struggle for gay equality (especially marriage equality), the aughts have been the equivalent of the anti-segregation ‘50s. Matt Sigl starts with Lawrence v. Texas and rolls from there:
In 2001 The Netherlands (of course) were the first nation in the world to recognize same-sex marriage. In 2003 Ontario followed suit, with Canada granting universal marriage rights to all citizens in 2005. By the end of the decade seven different countries (including South Africa!) have full legal marriage for same-sex couples. Many others have newly enacted civil union laws. And in America, after the shackles of legal and institutionalized homophobia were loosened with Lawrence, same-sex marriage became, just as Scalia predicted, not a lofty dream but a logical necessity and social inevitability. Within six months of the Lawrence decision the ice had thawed enough to allow for the Supreme Court of Massachusetts to demand the that Bay State offer the same marriage license to all its inhabitants, gay or straight.
I’d much rather the aughts be remembered as the Gay Decade than the Hipster Decade.
Both links via Sullivan.
If you want people to believe that the populace is becoming more literate through digital technology, you need to be sure not to misspell “populace.”
The whole post is quite good.
David Owen has a new book, titled Green Metropolis, that will be released next week. His 2004 New Yorker essay “Green Manhattan” [PDF] is a classic. The book looks like an extended treatment of the same idea.
Most Americans think of crowded cities as ecological nightmares, as wastelands of concrete and garbage and diesel fumes and traffic jams. Yet residents of compact urban centers, Owen shows, individually consume less oil, electricity, and water than other Americans. They live in smaller spaces, discard less trash, and, most important of all, spend far less time in automobiles. Residents of Manhattan–the most densely populated place in North America–rank first in public-transit use and last in percapita greenhouse-gas production, and they consume gasoline at a rate that the country as a whole hasn’t matched since the mid-1920s, when the most widely owned car in the United States was the Ford Model T. They are also among the only people in the United States for whom walking is still an important means of daily transportation.
These achievements are not accidents. Spreading people thinly across the countryside may make them feel green, but it doesn’t reduce the damage they do to the environment. In fact, it increases the damage, while also making the problems they cause harder to see and to address. Owen contends that the environmental problem we face, at the current stage of our assault on the world’s nonrenewable resources, is not how to make teeming cities more like the pristine countryside. The problem is how to make other settled places more like Manhattan, whose residents presently come closer than any other Americans to meeting environmental goals that all of us, eventually, will have to come to terms with.
He now calls the old record companies “archaic,” and says they made a huge error in 2000 when they sued to stop the original Napster, which popularized free file sharing: “They had it all in one place coming through one hole, where they could control it. They shut that down, and just opened the floodgates. Now everyone’s running their own Napster. Now it’s just a hole in the universe, and it’s too late.”
“Now it’s just a hole in the universe.” That really is the right image for the craziness we now face. Media space-time torn asunder. Well-established principles of album acceleration and movie momentum no longer apply. It’s just a hole in the universe!
Forgive me while I crow for just a moment: Mr. Penumbra just hit what I think is a new peak in the Kindle store. It’s the 937th bestselling item in the entire Kindle universe. The fourth-bestselling short story. The third-bestselling “techno thriller.”
The sad truth: As best I can figure, that rank was driven by about 30 copies over the past two days.
Alas, Kindle. Your universe is small indeed.