From the New York Times Weekend Briefing:

Western food companies are aggressively expanding in developing nations, unleashing a marketing juggernaut that’s contributing to a new epidemic of chronic illnesses fed by soaring rates of obesity.
How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food

In an era of fake news and “Make America Great Again” propaganda this struck me as an unusually honest statement to come from an American news publication.


A history of media technology scares, from the printing press to Facebook.

By chronicling a history of responses to technological developments, Vaughn Bell in his article “Don’t Touch That Dial!”, attempts to address anxieties about the introduction of new communication technologies and their effects on cognition. It’s an interesting reminder that we have been worrying about these issues for a long time and the article also makes for some interesting parallels but there are far more differences than similarities between the way we consume information today than in the past.

A respected Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner, might have been the first to raise the alarm about the effects of information overload. In a landmark book, he described how the modern world overwhelmed people with data and that this overabundance was both “confusing and harmful” to the mind. The media now echo his concerns with reports on the unprecedented risks of living in an “always on” digital environment. It’s worth noting that Gessner, for his part, never once used e-mail and was completely ignorant about computers. That’s not because he was a technophobe but because he died in 1565. His warnings referred to the seemingly unmanageable flood of information unleashed by the printing press.
Worries about information overload are as old as information itself, with each generation reimagining the dangerous impacts of technology on mind and brain. From a historical perspective, what strikes home is not the evolution of these social concerns, but their similarity from one century to the next, to the point where they arrive anew with little having changed except the label.

I think he’s missed the literature detailing internet addiction and the effects of multi-tasking on IQ and data retention.
Slate: Don’t Touch That Dial!


Progress?


Interesting how they comment on not trying to make money delivering the newspaper over the internet — the exact opposite of what is occurring today.


On reading books

“Some books are to be tasted,” he wrote, “others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books…. ” (Clearly Bacon predicted the rise of the graduate research assistant, trudging through the monographic literature for some great professor’s benefit.) – Francis Bacon

I see in the turning of literal pages — pages bound in literal books — a compelling larger value, and perceive in the move away from the book a move away from a certain kind of cultural understanding, one that I’m not confident that we are replacing, never mind improving upon…. The book is part of a system. And that system stands for the labor and taxonomy of human understanding, and to touch a book is to touch that system, however lightly. – Sven Birkerts

Taken from The Reader, commentary on Amazon’s Kindle 2, by Scott McLemee.


Twitter and politics

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This was one of the most interesting moments on the web I have experienced in years. I was watching a high quality live broadcast of the last Presidential debate in a window above realtime responses in Twitter.
The quality of the conversation is not always the best but it’s pretty clear how important services like twitter can be for debate, critique and fact-checking of political candidates. These a great tools for democratic journalism.
I’ll be monitoring twitter election night as well.


Certainly I need more data

Dailylit is an interesting service which I am giving a try. It delivers books in installments, via email or RSS. One per day. They have over 950 titles available, of which I am struggling to find something I am interested in reading. Many are free or available on a Pay-Per-Read basis.
Since I unfortunately spend most of my day in front of a screen this might be a good way to read something of value vs. the shit I read on blogs and news sites.


No Interest Magazines

I think that general-interest magazines may well be fated to fade away. General-interest anything is probably cursed. For the truth is that interest never was as general editors and publishers thought it was, back in the mass-media age. Old media just assumed we were interested in what they told us to be interested in. But we weren’t. We’re proving that with every new choice the internet enables.
Yet special-interest magazines — community magazines, to put it another way — have a brighter prospect — if they understand how to enable that community.


PRINT’s regional design annual on DVD

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I just found what I want for Christmas this year. Thank you Swissmiss.

PRINT’s Regional Design Annual is the only comprehensive profile of design in the United States. Now you can have immediate access to ten years’ worth of Regional Design Annual winners, online and on DVD. All of the 16,000+ winners—hand-picked by PRINT editors—are organized into easily searchable categories, including Identity/Stationery, Self-Promotion, Posters, Packaging, Ads, Editorial Design, Environmental Graphics, Photography, Illustration, Invitations/Announcements, Annual Reports and Outdoor Ads.

You can order it here.


iStock Photo’s Slow Customer Service

I have been using iStock quite frequently lately and I am quite pleased with the cost vs. quality that their catalogue provides. It’s not only a good source of stock but it’s a great place to find talent who are usually willing to take undemanding bits of work within my limited budgets. It’s a real boon to independent publishers as a way to supplement custom art. All in all the experience of using this part of the service has been fine with the added bonus of a strong user community.
But iStock begins to fail miserably when you actually have to interact with a real person who works with the company.
I sent by email a support request to their support address over a month ago without so much as an acknowledgment. A few days later thinking that perhaps that my mail got ‘lost’ I used their support form on their site. Luckily I got an automated reply but 30 days later I have yet to get my question answered by a human. And I must say it was a pertinent question not covered in their FAQ or contained within their forums. Snail mail would be faster than this. Actually, I ended giving up on using the service that I had the question about entirely.
Seeing as their is a dearth of Asian stock in their catalogue I thought it would be an interesting challenge to join the community as a contributor. Part of the strength of their catalogue comes from a seemingly vigorous human approvals process for each and every image submitted to the site. I submitted 3 images as they request in order for my application to be approved (you also have to pass a minor exam as well). 2 weeks later I heard back that one of my photos had ‘artifacts’ and such was rejected while another was rejected with no reason given. I submitted 2 new images for the application. It’s been over 2 weeks since. Obviously as valuable as this process is they need help.
iStock is a very successful company, largely as a result of their great user community, and despite the pitfalls I have mentioned I still use parts of the service. Their approvals process is painfully slow, which precludes using their interesting BuyRequest service for anything but the most untimely projects, and they never seem to answer support questions. As long as you don’t interact with people that work there than you will be fine. But is this any way to run a company?
[edit: November 4] I have since been contacted by both a volunteer and an official iStock customer service rep. – I am quite impressed with how they have handled my public comments. It would seem that my support question was responded to, the one with which was submitted by the contact form, and somehow it either never arrived at my inbox or got labeled as spam.
So it was all a mix-up and I think the way they handled it was superb.