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I find it helpful when other bloggers write a “things I’ve been reading” post — these summaries often put other posts from the same blog in context, or serve as timely little bibliographies of a meme flying across the web.
One of my favorite side effects of reading many different things in a relatively short amount of time is the serendipity of themes running across all the readings. I hope I can get organized enough to start making a habit of collecting these little patterns and connections and summarizing them every couple weeks here on my blog.
First, I have to give a shout-out here to the Sioux City Pubic Library. Although the website is abominable to use, their service is exceptional. I requested a couple brand new books, thinking I might get an interlibrary loan if I was lucky, but instead they bought the books for the library and had them ready for me in less than 2 weeks from my original request. I was mighty impressed.
So, this week’s readings. The book I am reading right now – only about fifty pages into it, in fact – seems to be magically pulling together pieces from other texts and quotes I’ve been exposed to recently. The book is Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas. I haven’t read anything else by this author. I heard about this book in particular from Amazon’s Best Books of September 2010 newsletter, which made the book sound completely insane. This appealed to me.
Page 19 – seemed to directly refer to the young adult book I breezed through just a couple days ago – Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony. From my GoodReads review: “I loved this book for setting the scene of a post-oil-collapse America. The author included wonderful credible details of such a future world, including a thriving black market, barter system, unreliable solar energy, backyard vegetable gardens, deserted cities, and a return to craftsmanship that makes sense. Even though nothing scary or disturbing happens in this book, the possibility of everything she describes coming true is scary enough in itself that I feel even more rushed to get that piece of land with an off-the-grid house and veggie garden. The author generously gives us until 2031 before it all goes bad, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens much sooner.” In Our Tragic Universe, a character talks about “cultural premonition” – when people write and paint about a disaster before it actually happens. The examples used in the book had to do with the Titanic. I’m sure there are plenty of other post-oil dystopia stories coming out soon or already available. I’m not going to look for them right now because the subject is freaky enough in my imagination as is.
Page 53 – “… a key feature of storylessness: all structures must contain the possibility of their own non-existence…” This reminded me of a TED Talk from Andrew Bird that Mark and I had just watched, in which Andrew describes a song he hasn’t finished yet, a song about “self-destructive feedback loops” and a person who avoids heartbreak so well they end up causing it themselves, or an eye straining to see itself.
Most of Our Tragic Universe so far has been conversations between friends. These conversations meander in remarkable ways, comparing Neitzsche to knitting, for example. These tangled threads reminded me of another TED Talk watched this weekend. This one from Steven B. Johnson, a technopundit with a background in semiotics and English literature, which makes for a very interesting mix of metaphors and examples in his writing. His most recent TED Talk is basically a plug for his latest book Where Good Ideas Come From: the natural history of innovation – which I also have checked out from the library but haven’t started reading yet. To see a really fun, quick summary of some ideas from the book, check out this 4-minute video.
I finished an older book by Johnson last week called Interface Culture: how new technology trasforms the way we create and communicate from 1997. The things that stuck with me were the brief histories of visual and architectural metaphors used in the graphical design of modern interfaces — from small details like “trash cans” or “recycle bins” to structural concepts like “folders” and “desktops”. Some of his hopes and predictions for future interfaces had me wondering which of our contemporary tools might fit into his 1997 descriptions. I had to give myself a quick refresher on historical internet landmarks in order to put Interface Culture in context. For example: the domain google.com was registered in September 1997, “weblog” was supposedly coined in December 1997, Yahoo Mail started in October 1997, RSS wouldn’t be around until 1999, the iPod – 2001, Delicious.com – 2003, Facebook – 2004, Twitter – 2006, and the iPhone – 2007. As I was reading the book, it was amazing to realize how much had changed in thirteen years and how much had not. Some questions still nagging me: what is the iPad’s interface metaphor? Can we still talk about iOS having “windows” or has it done away with that old standby? What is our mental concept map for navigating through apps on an iPad or iPhone? How much longer will we continue to use paperbook metaphors in ebook interfaces?