Worthwhile Reading and Viewing

Allocation of IQ to thinking about relationships–different in men and women.  So argues this article, which is linked and discussed in a thread by Rob Henderson at Twitter.

The Great Untethering–school choice and remote work.

East of the Mississippi–19th century American landscape photography.

How Allied mass production drove the victory over the Axis powers. A YouTube documentary, which I haven’t seen yet but which looks promising.

What kinds of people are attracted to mass movements?  “(Eric) Hoffer emphasizes that creative people–those who experience creative flow–aren’t usually attracted to mass movements.”  (Twitter)  Makes sense, but is this really true?  Seems to me that there were quite a few creative scientists and artists who were strongly attracted to Communism, and I can think of at least one supposedly-creative philosopher who was strongly attracted to Naziism.

The Real Roaring Twenties Was… the 1720s.  So argues Anton Howes in this article.  His Twitter feed is here.

A 3D Reconstruction of the Aztec Capital of Tenochtitlan.


Meta’s new Twitter competitor is called “Threads”, the name deriving from ‘threads of conversation’.  (The use of the term in online discussion systems may owe something to its earlier use in operating system technology)

However, another connotation of the word “threads” seems appropriate for this particular product.  Marionettes–puppets–are manipulated via threads (OK, strings if you want) and controlled by a puppeteer.  They have no autonomy, they do what the puppeteer wants them to do.

Given that a lot of the support for Threads seems based on its promise of a ‘curated’ environment, this other meaning of the term fits quite well.  (See this post for early examples of this curation in practice)

It has becomes more and more clear how much power devolves to those who control the communications environment, and how difficult it is to overcome this advantage. See my related posts:

Comm Check

The Rage of the Prince-Electors

Book Review: Year of Consent

Society, Social Media, and Human Nature

The Instagram Panopticon, at Quillette, discusses the way in which social media has encouraged people to carefully curate their self-presentations and to judge the self-presentations of others.

I think it is certainly true that new kinds of media can affect how people think, feel, and interact…and this effect is nothing new. Joseph Roth, who lived in Berlin in the 1920s, wrote about the impact of radio:

There are no more secrets in the world. The whispered confessions of a despondent sinner are available to all the curious ears of a community, which thanks to the wireless telephone has become a pack…No one listened any longer to the song of the nightingale and the chirp of conscience. No one followed the voice of reason and each allowed himself to be drowned out by the cry of instinct.

He didn’t like photography very much, either:

There are no more secrets in the world. The whispered confessions of a despondent sinner are available to all the curious ears of a community, which thanks to the wireless telephone has become a pack…No one listened any longer to the song of the nightingale and the chirp of conscience. No one followed the voice of reason and each allowed himself to be drowned out by the cry of instinct.

But the focus on self-presentation and on evaluating the presentations of other goes back much further.  Consider, for example Russia’s ‘paper Facebook’ of the 19th century.  No computers and no telephones, but, among aristocrats and the well-off, visiting cards were  very important…and:

The cards, decorated with vignettes and lettering, were usually piled somewhere in the entrance hall of a rich house – either on a coffee table or tucked behind the mirror; so when a guest was coming, while he waited for the servants to tell the host he’s got a visitor, the guest could assess the popularity and social ties of his host by looking at the cards.

The fashion mongers of the era flaunted each other with a set of business cards from famous and popular people, just as some people now flaunt how many Facebook stars they are friends with!

There were even bot-equivalents to increase one’s count of Likes:

Some people even paid the doormen in rich people’s houses for visiting cards of famous persons – princes, counts, rich businessmen – to tuck these cards behind their mirrors and make their guests believe they are sometimes visited by such ‘posh’ persons.

Going back even further, in one of Fielding’s novels a woman takes great pleasure in going through the visiting cards of people who called on her.  Again, similar to like-collecting on Instagram or Facebook, probably exactly the same dopamine hit.

So yes, changes in media do influence human perception and behavior…but we must be careful not to ascribe things to new media which are really human constants.

Harvard–A View From 1835

Harriet Martineau was a British writer who has been called ‘the first female sociologist’ and even ‘the mother of sociology.’  (No fair blaming her for the activities of sociologists today!)  From 1834-1836, she paid a long visit to the United States and traveled and observed extensively.  Her comments about Harvard University are interesting:

The politics of the managers of Harvard University are opposed to those of the great body of the American people. She is the aristocratic college of the United States. Her pride of antiquity, her vanity of pre-eminence and wealth, are likely to prevent her renovating her principles and management so as to suit the wants of the period; and she will probably receive a sufficient patronage from the aristocracy, for a considerable time to come, to encourage her in all her faults. She has a great name, and the education she affords is very expensive in comparison with all other colleges. The sons of the wealthy will therefore flock to her. The attainments usually made within her walls are inferior to those achieved elsewhere, her professors (poorly salaried, when the expenses of living are considered) being accustomed to lecture and examine the students, and do nothing more. The indolent and the careless will therefore flock to her. But, meantime, more and more new colleges are rising up, and are filled as fast as they rise, whose principles and practices are better suited to the wants of the time. In them living is cheaper, and the professors are therefore richer with the same or smaller salaries; the sons of the yeomanry and mechanic classes resort to them; and, where it is the practice of the tutors to work with their pupils, as well as lecture to them, a proficiency is made which shames the attainments of the Harvard students. The middle and lower classes are usually neither Unitarian nor Episcopalian, but“orthodox,” as their distinctive term is; and these, the strength and hope of the nation, avoid Harvard, and fill to overflowing the oldest orthodox colleges; and, when these will hold no more, establish new ones.

She attended a Harvard commencement and remarked on the speeches given:

A great variety of exercises were gone through by the young men: orations were delivered, and poems, and dialogues, and addresses. Some of these appeared to me to have a good deal of merit; two or three were delivered by students who relied on their reputation at college, with a manner mixed up of pomposity and effrontery, which contrasted amusingly with the modesty of some of their companions, who did things much more worth of honour. I discovered that many, if not most of the compositions, contained allusions to mob-law; of course, reprobating it. This was very satisfactory, particularly if the reprobation was accompanied with a knowledge of the causes and a recognition of the real perpetrators of the recent illegal violences; a knowledge that they have invariably sprung out of a conflict of selfish interests with eternal principles; and a recognition that their perpetrators have universally been, at first or second hand, aristocratic members of American society.

The next day, Martineau attended the annual meeting of Harvard’s Phi Beta Kappa society:

Prayers were said by the chaplain of the society; and then a member delivered an address. This address was, and is, to me a matter of great surprise. I do not know what was thought of it by the members generally; but if its doctrine and sentiments are at all sanctioned by them, I must regard this as another evidence, in addition to many, that the minority in America are, with regard to social principles, eminently in the wrong. The traveller is met everywhere among the aristocracy of the country with what seems to him the error of concluding that letters are wisdom, and that scholarship is education. Among a people whose profession is social equality, and whose rule of association is universal self-government, he is surprised to witness the assumptions of a class, and the contempt which the few express for the many, with as much assurance as if they lived in Russia or England. Much of this is doubtless owing to the minds of the lettered class having been nourished upon the literature of the old world, so that their ideas have grown into a conformity with those of the subjects of feudal institutions, and the least strong-minded and original indiscriminately adopt, not merely the language, but the hopes and apprehensions, the notions of good and evil which have been generated amidst the antiquated arrangements of European society: but, making allowance for this, as quite to be expected of all but very strong and original minds, it is still surprising that within the bounds of the republic, the insolence should be so very complacent, the contempt of the majority so ludicrously decisive as it is. Self-satisfied, oracular ignorance and error are always as absurd as they are mournful; but when they are seen in full display among a body whose very ground of association is superiority of knowledge and of the love of it, the inconsistency affords a most striking lesson to the observer. Of course, I am not passing a general censure on the Association now under notice; for I know no more of it than what I could learn from the public exercises of this day, and a few printed addresses and poems. I am speaking of the tone and doctrine of the orator of the day, who might be no faithful organ of the society, but whose ways of thinking and expressing himself were but too like those of many literary and professional men whom I met in New England society.

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