Tuesday, May 06, 2003

I read a lot, and pretty much always have. Books, I read ~60% science fiction with a little fantasy, 30% cognitive science, evolutionary biology, philosophy, etc, 10% computer science. An occasional mystery or suspense novel. I have trouble reading most modern literature. It seems like they are writing for each other, feverishly trying to justify rarified urban existences.

I also read monthly: Scientific American, Technology Review, Sky and Telescope, Free Inquiry (Council of Secular Humanism), Ad Astra (National Space Society), Wired, Dr. Dobbs Journal, C/C++ Journal, MSDN Magazine (god it's hard to read the Microsoft cheerleading), Call Center, Transform. Bi-weekly, Intelligent Enterprise and Software Development Times. Weekly, InfoWorld. Daily, the local newspaper (Knight-RIdder) and various online computer bulletins. I probably read more of Wired than any other of these.

I believe I am about as good as it gets at taking in large quantities of information and putting them together. I am bad at sitting down and creating "something from nothing". I have so much admiration for people who have that type of creativity. My youngest daughter is supposed to be getting me a CD of her performing (vocals and guitar) songs that she has written. My children are all much more creative than I, they must have gotten it from their mother.

Speaking of creativity I read "Creativity", by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (no joke) a few years ago. It looks at lots of artists, Nobel prize winners, etc to see what they had in common. The only thing I remember that they shared was journal-keeping. So, too bad for me that we didn't have blogs 30 years ago ;-<

One thing I don't do for information is watch TV or listen to radio. 1) I have always hated to be read to -- too low bandwidth. 2) Reading, if something is bullshit, you can skip it. With TV and radio, it's way too easy for them to force their agenda on you. 3) The images from TV seem to have too much impact. They enflame rather than inform. 4) On the radio, I like to hear music. I mostly listen to CDs in the car, because even the local university station (WRFL, 88.1, all the way to the left) has too much talking at times. Commercial radio is like TV, way too many ads, altho I miss getting to hear what's going to be the newest hit (I have the ear for that).

I make a fairly concerted effort to keep my intake from the advertising stream to a minimum. However, I have lately been taking more of an interest in marketing. If memetics is a science, then marketing is its primary engineering discipline. I think that the dominant cultural force in the world today is American Consumerism, driven by the American marketing machine (the Japanese may possibly have taken this to heart even more than we Americans). I have read a couple of books lately re marketing:

  1. "Coercion, Why We Listen to What "They" Say", by Douglas Rushkoff. Not great, but some stuff of interest. I wasn't particularly aware of sales techniques designed to cause the potential buyer to regress to a childhood state, with the salesperson as the authority figure to be obeyed/pleased. I get annoyed with "soft" books like this when they talk about things and don't give numbered (heirarchical) lists. (The facts, maam, just the facts.) He did give a numbered list of what makes up a cult tho.
  2. William Gibson's latest, "Pattern Recognition". What a great read, I might even agree with the reviews that say it's his best since "Neuromancer"! Gibson is definitely all over marketing as the great molder of a majority of peoples' minds. The protagonist who is violently allergic to certain name brands is fantastic -- marketing as the creator of a new level of (ir)reality.
This past years' Superbowl, I think that 60-70% of the people I talked to were going to watch it for the ads! Advertising, the great native American art form.

One other book that touched on this as well that I really enjoyed was Bruce Sterling's "Zeitgeist". Characters whose actions are constrained by how far they are off of the current (marketing) concensus reality?!?!? I think this is my favorite of Sterling's novels.

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