Interconnected

Filtered for top-notch long reads

1.

This well-illustrated piece on Chinese Mobile UI trends is full of great nuggets.

My favourite is that companies have adopted automated "chat" as their official public face. Each brand is a bot that runs inside one of the several apps that users in China have instead of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc. How it works:

You can send any kind of message (text, image, voice, etc), and [the bot will] reply, either in an automated fashion or by routing it to a human somewhere. The interface is exactly the same as for chatting with your friends, save for one difference: it has menus at the bottom with shortcuts to the main features of the account.

A couple more features:

Other than that, every feature you can use in a normal chat is available here. WeChat even auto-transcribes the voice messages (mentioned before) into text before passing them to the third-party server running the account. Official accounts can also push news updates to their subscribers. Every media outlet operates one ...

I'm into this, I'm into this. Our western way for interacting with companies (assuming the shitty voice menu things are wildly out-dated) is websites, which we browse. But instead of browsing, a conversation?

So... cultural difference between China and the west, or just one of those forks in the road? Or a glimpse of the future?

2.

Hooked on Labs (thanks Iain) draws a line between the practice of Robert Hooke in the 1660s and the modern trend for companies to have "labs."

Labs are places where people conduct experiments to test out theories. The new labs proliferating outside the hard sciences are a symptom of the spread of experimentalism as an ideology for how we should shape the future. Curiosity is at the core of experimentalist culture: it holds that knowledge should develop by being testable and therefore provisional ...

I like that the answer to "how should we invent?" can be not a process but a location. Other answers might be "a studio," and "the field," both of which suggest a variety of processes and practices without being pinned down.

I guess my recent preoccupation with coffee mornings is about the same thing. Can the "coffee morning" as a place, with all its informality (which I am desperate to preserve), be a way to dowse the scenius, to allow invention to occur without process?

Also coffee.

And this bit:

One vital source of this conversational approach to science was Copenhagen and the culture that Niels Bohr created around his institute for theoretical physics and his nearby home.

...which reminds me of this terrific story about the development of the theory of electron spin and how it came together as Bohr travelled across Europe by train.

At the beginning of the trip:

Bohr's train to Leiden made a stop in Hamburg, where he was met by Pauli and Stern who had come to the station to ask him what he thought about spin. Bohr must have said that it was very very interesting (his favorite way of expressing that something was wrong), but he could not see how an electron moving in the electric field of the nucleus could experience the magnetic field necessary for producing fine structure.

And as Bohr travels from town to town, he meets scientists, hears arguments, develops his view, and carries information. Great story.

I think of the interactions between scientists as the hidden particles that don't show up in the traces of a cloud chamber. They're there, busy - multiple - far denser and richer and messier than the clean interactions of the citations in scientific papers or at conferences - the invisible trillions of forks that are left out of Feynman diagrams. Those interactions are what really matter, and their stories are the most interesting of all.

3.

I mentioned a radio show on the American West the other day... that show mentioned a paper given in 1893 by one Frederick J Turner: The Significance of the Frontier in American History (chapter 1 only in the linked book).

Three years earlier, the western frontier had been officially declared closed. In his paper, Turner argued that as "European germs" moved west from the Atlantic coast, America was created:

Moving westward, the frontier became more and more American. As successive terminal moraines result from successive glaciations, so each frontier leaves its traces behind it, and when it becomes a settled area the region still partakes of the frontier characteristics. Thus the advance of the frontier has meant a steady movement away from the influence of Europe, a steady growth of independence on American lines. And to study this advance, the men who grew up under these conditions, and the political, economic, and social results of it, is to study the really American part of our history.

It's both a wonderful history and a great point of view.

But this chapter is worth reading purely for the language and the metaphors. The variation of sentence length. The rhythms.

colonial settlement is for economic science what the mountain is for geology, bringing to light primitive stratifications.

Every river valley and Indian trail became a fissure in Indian society, and so that society became honeycombed.

Complex society is precipitated by the wilderness into a kind of primitive organization based on the family.

For a moment, at the frontier, the bonds of custom are broken and unrestraint is triumphant.

And now, four centuries from the discovery of America, at the end of a hundred years of life under the Constitution, the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history.

Boom!

This is a paper written to be read aloud.