What I Read This Week - 20th May

On making sense of the world. - A Letter to My Thirties (Sarah Menkedick at Vela Magazine)

I remember seeing the swaying tops of the ficus trees and thinking, my life is going to get narrower at some point, inevitably, and perhaps that is not a bad thing. And that is when I saw you peek a mischievous eyeball over the apogee of my Twenties, and giggle.

How to make peace with this narrowing, its shape and structure and very inevitability, is the issue haunting all of my friends right now.

I am not quite on the cusp of my thirties yet and I am not so peripatetic, but that makes this essay seem no less pressing, no less relevant.

- The importance of ambiguity (Pico Iyer interviewed at the Economist)

The problem is that you can only make sense of the world by stepping out of it. More and more, in our age of acceleration and scrolling headlines and breaking news around the clock, we’re standing two inches away from the world, able to see what happened ten seconds ago but not able often to put it in a wider context or to see its long-term implications.

- How Smart Phones Are Turning Our Public Places Into Private Ones (Emily Badger at the Atlantic Cities)

Smart phones, in short, have given users the impression that they move through communal spaces as if in private bubbles. “They feel that everywhere they are, they have their privacy,” Hatuka says. Smart phones have created, the researchers say, “portable private personal territories.”

“The whole idea of public/private as binary is becoming much more complex,” Hatuka says. “Instead of thinking about public and private, we have to think about the private sphere becoming more dominant in public. For the smart-phone users, they’re totally, constantly engaged with the private sphere, and it’s reducing the basic roles of public space.”

I'm really interested in this, though I think I'd be even more interested to see the same findings addressed or presented without such a clear value judgement (e.g. "This is not a good thing). "The ubiquitous smart phone may even degrade the way we recognize, memorize and move through cities" - I'm interested in how it changes the way we recognize, memorialize and move through cities, but equally interested in the assumption that this is a degradation, not, for instance, an augmentation.

- The Lonely Ones (Emily Cooke at The New Inquiry)

Solitude is a problem for writers generally, who spend so much time alone rehearsing a form of ideal communication.

- Circle of Presence (Michael Sacasas at The New Inquiry)

The insertion of a tool like a cell phone into our experience reconfigures the “intentional arc.” The phenomenon is neatly captured by the expression, “To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.” How we perceive our environment is shaped by the mere presence of a tool in hand. And this effect is registered even before the tool is used.

Merleau-Ponty might analyze the situation as follows: The feel of a hammer in hand, especially given prior use of a hammer, transforms how the environment presents itself to us. Aspects of the environment that would not have presented themselves as things-to-be-struck now do. Our interpretive perception interprets differently. Our seeing-as is altered. New possibilities suggest themselves. The affordances presented to us by our environment are reordered.