#technology

Game Changer/STEAM Thursday: Brain Pickings - Innovative Examinations of Creativity and Intimate Life

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We’re inspired by Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings blog.  It’s a fount of ideas that atypically examines the work of iconic minds and illuminates the work of lesser-known lights.  Brain Pickings joins the arts, sciences and humanities in ways that broaden our perspectives on life and (its most important element) love.

Image via brainpickings.org

After a Night with Patti Smith

Yesterday, Patti Smith’s “M Train” was released.  On Saturday night, I had the awesome pleasure of observing her conversation with David Remnick as part of the New Yorker Festival.  Days later, the thoughts and themes she articulated remain at the forefront of my mind.

Ms. Smith invoked a downtown (Manhattan) that wasn’t a glossy caricature of the artist life, but instead fecund soil for creativity.   She did so in a tone of voice that was suffused with fatigue rather than nostalgia.  Perhaps she was tired of reminding people that there were times when emerging art and outsider artists were vital sources of energy in the city, when the substance of art - not its sheen - was prioritized. 

She warned the audience against the pull of disposable culture, and reminded us that it’s good work and good deeds that endure.  In a world focused on immediacy, how often do we allow ourselves the time to do truly good work?  Do we allot ourselves enough time to contemplate before we render something complete (or comment, or send)?  How focused are we, honestly, on good deeds?  When did we decide that simply looking good was enough?

Technology isn’t the enemy, but it’s not the answer either.  We humans, individuals, communities, are the most powerful forces of advancement, and the arts are the vessel through which this power is best communicated. 

It is the root that holds the magic that makes the flower bloom and bloom again, while petals inevitably shrivel.

I believe that widespread collaborations between the art and technology sectors will lead us to a future we are proud to inhabit.

Sacha Wynne, WӔRK Founder

Book cover image via Amazon

Art, Technology and the Internet of Things. Part 2 of 4.

Last Wednesday, we began a four-part series on "Art, Technology and the Internet of Things".  This installment, Part Two, highlights ways in which inclusion of the arts (or the artistic point-of-view) within the Internet of Things can address technology's societal shortfalls.

Collaboration as a Means to Lengthen Shortened Attention Spans

In our era of iThings, the “i” may well stand for “immediate” or “instant”, instead of “Internet”.  We expect to attain everything we want, on demand, and patience is longer considered a virtue.  Society is suffering for our shrinking attention spans in ways that we may not yet fully understand.  These unrealistic expectations of perpetual immediacy may be tempered by arts-tech partnerships.  For example:

  • The idea of “failing better” can be influenced by the draft /edit process, and may encourage more significant gains in each iteration or “edit” than other methods allow. 
  • Technology can facilitate contemplation and comprehension within the artistic environment, through participatory installations or by encouraging repetitive motion and/or thought as a standalone.
  • Technology can encourage focus by providing access to instruction and digital tools that facilitate amateur arts practice.

Collaboration as Means to Make Sense of the Proliferation of Information

We are in a time of the rise of the know-it-all: we want answers instantaneously, without taking the time to contemplate the world around us. We are trained to search, not to explore.  A perspective informed by the arts and culture can provide a sieve through which the immense volume of digital information and data may be filtered, to deepen understanding.  It is the presence of the arts and culture perspective, alongside technology that will truly empower the relationship between human and machine.

  • The mutability of data lends itself to review by artists and culture bearers, who are trained to expose order among ambiguity. 
  • Data requires interpretation and artists are experts in interpreting the living and the ephemeral.  
  • Analysts are not informed with a critical eye in the way that artists are.  Artists read between the lines to find authenticity.
  •  Artists identify themes that are unarticulated by individuals or groups or unidentifiable by a model or algorithm.

View Part 1.

Photo by Milanares/iStock / Getty Images

Art, Technology and the Internet of Things. Part 1 of 4.

Photo by scyther5/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by scyther5/iStock / Getty Images

Very soon, it is believed, everything – animate and inanimate – will be connected through the Internet.  This concept, known as the “Internet of Things”, is lauded as a revolutionary means to advance humanity by boosting efficiency.   Yet this reality, the connection between all things at all times, is nothing new: for millennia, the arts and culture have connected people, places and things across vast distances – and have advanced much more than mere efficiency.  

As technology’s influence ascends in public consciousness, the perception of the importance of the arts and culture to daily American life is waning.  Coders, software developers and other digital professionals have expanded our society’s definitions of creativity.  However, although the idea of creativity is lauded, the work of artists and culture bearers is trivialized as superfluous, out-of-touch, inessential.  The commercial value of art is increasing as dramatically as respect for the intrinsic value of art practice is diminishing.

In 2014, the Pew Research Center published a report on the Internet of Things, featuring predictions for 2025 by thought and business leaders in the technical and academic sectors.  Although no one can predict exactly what the Internet of Things will be, nearly everyone surveyed agreed: that widespread connectivity will be the norm in the future, that our personal information will be collected and used in ways that may both help and hinder us, and that the way we interact with the world around us will be transformed. 

The consequences of a connected future that isn’t holistic, that takes the emotional, spiritual and aesthetic needs of humanity for granted are potentially disastrous.  The unchecked ascent of digital technologies and digital consumerism should be probed by artists and culture bearers, to illuminate both the risks for the global citizenry and the progress that can be derived by a system in which the arts and culture facilitate a checks and balances system for anti-empathetic products and practices. 

Technology has its limits, and it is there where the arts and culture thrive.  After two decades of “disruption” by the advent of digital technology into daily life, artists and culture bearers are armed with the perspective, access and familiarity with digital media, to advance an inclusive future.  Collaborations between the arts/culture and technology sectors may address some of the societal concerns and heal the societal ruptures brought on by digital technologies. 

Parts Two and Three of this series will specifically address four ways in which these cross-sector collaborations can transform our current realities.

 

It Makes Us Wonder

Is the decline in fiction readers directly related to the decline of empathy in our society?

Literature, with its ability to highlight our universal experiences, is a powerful tool for the advancement of empathy and the building of interpersonal bonds.

How can we encourage the exploration of authors' alternate worlds, in an age where data retains ultimate authority?  What do you think?

It's Critical

In the recent past, traditional liberal arts education was merely undervalued. Today it’s being attacked outright, as the prioritization of applied approaches to education gain prominence in academic and economic dialogues.  Contemporary wisdom dictates that our youth should be directed toward STEM fields, but we at WÆRK believe that the dearth of the critical thinking, which is the fruit of a liberal arts education, is creating a crisis.

Using social media as a megaphone, anyone can broadcast his or her opinion to the world.  Too frequently, these often critical opinions are neither mediated by deep contemplation nor empathetic consideration. Broad context is often ignored, due to the rapid pace of online communication and unfamiliarity with bridging ideas that is nurtured through training in critical thought.  People “don’t read the comments” because they know that base, anonymous criticism drags dialogue into the gutter.  Online trolls may assault the ego, but they destroy the development of fecund conversations and communities.

As we face an increasing glut of information, the critical thinking education that is viewed as so disposable will, in fact, be more relevant than ever.  A background in critical thinking can help us weed through crap to find quality.  It may provide a checks and balances system for the increasingly unfettered digital economy, by encouraging wholesale consideration before judgments are made.  It may, invigorated by intertextuality online and off, encourage a richness of culture and conversation.

Photo by WÆRK