I completed a major stage in a big project this week. Emerging from the haze, I had a bit more time to read for pleasure / curiosity. This helps explain the older selections of article that follow, and the number of books I managed to get through. I made steady progress with my language-learning coding side-project (about which more soon), and recorded three new podcast episodes to be released in the next few weeks.
- Nick Romeo - “The Chatbot Will See You Now” (New Yorker)
This is an article about how technology might help provide some kind of therapeutic intervention at scale. A specific case explored in the piece is that of Syrian refugees who use the app to help deal with things they experienced as a result of the ongoing conflict (or as a result of refugee life). Results on efficacy and so on are still unknown, but it’s at least an intriguing idea.
- Mark A. Heberle - “Must Everyone Write English?” (Claremont Review of Books)
Heberle explores how translation into English is both a blessing and a curse. It brings about this kind of ‘global literature’ and awareness of other cultures for English-reading audiences, but it also changes the kinds of expression that takes place. It’s a challenge to the English-first trend that will leave us so much poorer over time.
- Lisa Miller - “An Experiment in Empathy” (New York Magazine)
This piece is accompanied by a video (here). The video is worth watching, but both show what happens when various parties from ‘opposing sides’ of a contentious issue (gun laws in the USA) come together to try to understand and/or empathise with each other. I’ve long talked about the need for finding a place for empathy in how we understand other people, other places, other contexts, but this piece pushes back a little against that logic. Paul Bloom has also recently published a book (‘Against Empathy’) which argues against the use of empathy as a primary means of making decisions. I will be reading that soon to see how it meshes with my current understanding.
- Michael Knox Beran - “In Defense of Memorization” (City Journal)
A common charge levelled at those who study ways to improve their memories is that there is no need to learn facts since everything is available online. This article shows how memory fits into different kinds of education and learning and how it enriches your mental landscape.
- Cal Newport - “Some Thoughts on Transitioning to Digital Minimalism” (CalNewport.com)
Sensible advice on how to start thinking about reshaping your digital consumption habits. Newport’s last book, ‘Deep Work’, gets into all of this in much more detail, but it’s a useful entry point if you’re considering making a change.
- Tristan Harris - “How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist” (The Startup)
A useful reminder of the ways that our oft-used tech-enabled gateways and services are highly addictive, and designed to be so. This, to my mind, should make us think and pause and consider ways we can be less dependent.
- Jonathan Stray - “The Dark Clouds of Financial Cryptography” (JonathanStray.com)
I’m simultaneously fascinated by the various new digital currencies that have emerged in the last year or two but also overwhelmed whenever I try to understand how they work. This article by Jonathan Stray brought me a little closer to learning about the ‘how’, but also some of the ‘why’ and reasons for possible uncertainty and concern.
- Tara Duggan - “Seafood’s New Normal” (San Francisco Chronicle)
A richly reported story on how climate change and fishing practices are changing how seafood reaches our plates as consumers. It’s told through a very specific lens (that of California and the American west coast) which helps give the piece its power.
- Mark Schapiro - “The Unique Burden of Covering Climate Change in the Middle East” (Pacific Standard)
A really nice overview of the challenges that local journalists face in the Middle East when trying to cover climate change. Schapiro tells his story by way of a workshop in Amman hosted by the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism. We get to meet reporters from different countries. This was a great way to get at the story, and I wish there were more pieces like this.
- David Schenker - “Jordan’s Economy Was Always Shaky. The Refugee Crisis Has Only Made Things Worse.” (The Tower)
I understand next to nothing about how economies and financial systems work, but this article on Jordan’s economy seemed to make sense. Things were always difficult, but now is especially so.
- Donna Abu-Nasr - “Saudis Are Trying to Figure Out How the Post-Oil Era Works” (Bloomberg)
Lots has been written on the Saudi pivot, how they want to be less dependent on oil and reinvent the Kingdom’s role in the Middle East and the world at large. This was the first piece I’ve read that laid out some of the confusion and contradiction as to what exactly that means.
I read Irving’s ‘Guide to the Good Life’, a useful and practical guide to stoicism, a Greco-Roman philosophy that is undergoing a revival in certain circles these days. Harrison’s ‘A Powerful Mind: The Self-Education of George Washington’ was a slightly dry but compelling account of the role of reading in the life and career of George Washington. I read Deci’s ‘Why We Do What We Do’ on the strength of Deb Chachra’s recommendation during her Sources and Methods podcast interview. Deci argues that internal motivation beats external motivation every time; I’ve started employing some of the suggestions in my language coaching work as a result. I also finished Yassin-Kassab and Al-Shami’s excellent ‘Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War’ (my longer review here).
If you’re still reading, please drop me a note if you have a spare moment. I see the stats on how many people open these ‘Knots’ link collections but I’m unsure as to whether they’re useful. Let me know if you find them useful, and/or what else you’d like me to write about.