It’s officially fall, and not just the leaves are changing:
This month I started a new job at the NYC Media Lab, a public-private partnership between the city government and a consortium of universities and media companies. The lab aims to develop tech talent in New York City by connecting member media companies with students and faculty who are researching, prototyping, and ultimately shaping the future of the city and our tech industry. I’m pleased to be joining the lab as the community manager.
I also used the change in seasons to get back into my reading groove.
I discovered new (to me) novels by Susan Choi and Eka Kurniawan. I’ve been away from books for too long, instead finding my commute time filled with podcasts and Instapaper essays.
Nothing against those two mediums, I just forgot how good it feels – and how different – to disappear for a bit into the world of a finely wrought novel. Novels are a weird gift: characters and settings that imprint on your imagination and widen the scope of your life a few pages at a time. Can a podcast do that, too? I think the best can. They invite you into their studio, with their guests. They feel close and intimate. But it’s their voices and ideas that are new. With fiction it is the whole world you see differently. A podcast and a novel are both entertaining. But the best novels, I think, outrank the best podcasts. The best novels tether us more strongly back to being human, in their detail and their observations of the world.
I write that last sentence and feel unsatisfied by it. How? How do novels “work”? When I feel a good novel work on me, I sense it encouraging some inclination I might have to looking outwards, towards wanting to connect with others and see the world from their perspective. Can novels really do that? Can they shift how we experience the world? Maybe so, but Peter Lamarque, in one of my favorite Philosophy Bites episodes, is careful to note that this function of novels shouldn’t be confused with truth telling about the human condition. Novels can’t show us what is there, but they help us look, they encourage us to see for ourselves.
My next three books of this month are on non-fiction picks from Harold Bloom, Sherry Turkle, and Daniel Levitin.
I find myself curious lately about how technology is shaping how we think and feel. Bloom writes on empathy and morality, Turkle on the shortfalls of digital communication, and Levitin on surviving the onslaught of information in modern life.
I started Levitin most recently, but unfortunately it appealed to other members of my household:
Good thing I had already gotten through the first chapter.
Despite my (personal) rallying cries for a return books, I’ve also been listening to the amazing podcast
Rumble Strip Vermont.
This recent episode was with librarian Jessamyn West, aptly described as “technology lady” and “internet famous”. She speaks nationally about the digital divide, and how public libraries are evolving: “You help them solve their information needs. It used to be “Oh you want to find a new book.” Now it’s more than that. It used to be a building with 5k books, now it’s an endless building with an endless number of books.”
I also spent some time exploring a new ProPublica app.
It’s an interactive database on the College Scorecard data set. The app that tells readers about an individual school, and allows you to look up to see if students eligible for Pell grants are getting in, taking on a lot of debt, and getting employed afterwards. The app gives context to data and asks: Are non-profit private schools helping their low income students? Or were they spending on other things?
And, of course, Twitter Moments.
I appreciated this round up of Effective Twitter Moments of Syrian Refugees.
Next week in media I plan to round out my reading list with one more novel, continue writing my thesis, and interview one of my favorite writers for Guernica Magazine (more on that, soon!)