Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

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This feels like a good description of the day

Still going to try to do some writing today, but this captures lots of my friends’ mood:

How “weak parties and strong partisanship” brought us 2016

Political scientist Julia Azari has an essay on Vox explaining the rise of Trump in terms of “weak parties and strong partisanship:”

The defining characteristic of our moment is that parties are weak while partisanship is strong…. it is a particularly dangerous combination [because] parties can’t control whom they nominate. But their adherents — elites and ordinary voters alike — are prepared to support them.

Why is this a very bad combination? It encourages polarization between parties, and a heightened sense that people who belong to other parties, and the candidates they support, are evil. It creates an environment in which partisan voters can be mobilized to vote against the opposition even if they have strong reservations about their own candidate. It means that the apparatus of a political party can more easily fall into the hands of someone who doesn’t believe in the party’s major principles, but succeeds in appealing to its rank and file.

And it also makes moderation much less likely in governing. Compromise with the other party seen as weakness, but each side is less likely to have things that the other wants or needs. As ideological purity becomes more important, it becomes more dangerous for politicians to engage in bipartisan deals, or to be seen as wavering or uncertain in their ideological commitment. And partisanship undermines institutions. As Azari puts it, “It’s hard for institutions — elected ones like Congress, the presidency, or state governments,” or for “courts and, as we’ve seen most recently, law enforcement agencies” to be seen as trustworthy when citizens are inclined to “view much of what these institutions do through a partisan lens.”

And of course the bad news here is that the structural forces that gave rise to Trump are either not going to go away if he loses, or will overwhelm to GOP and Washington if he wins. One is hard pressed to imagine a cabinet consisting of his most ardent supporters and apologists serving as a balance against his authoritarian tendencies; and Capitol Hill hasn’t exactly been Profiles in Courage so far either.

How to avoid the Terminator Apocalypse: Don’t yell at Siri

You shouldn’t be mean to smart technology.

via GIPHY

That’s the takeaway from a new Harvard Business Review piece by Michael Schrage about “Why You Shouldn’t Swear at Siri:”

[The] irresistible rise of ever-smarter machines worldwide demands that leaders and managers become better people. Self-indulgently lashing out at underperforming bots and software agents represents poor leadership-by-example — and worse, bad manners.

Sooner, rather than later, organizations will have to recognize that getting the best out of their smart technologies requires getting the best from themselves.

The abuse of technologies is actually a nontrivial social problem. Think of kids attacking robots in shopping malls (this happened in Japan), or adults beating up a hitchhiking robot (this happened in Philly). While we’ve always yelled at devices when they don’t do what we want them to (e.g., a printer that jans when we’re printing out a final paper due in a few minutes), yelling at technologies that are taking their cues from our behavior could be problematic.

 

Writing and Research

Kevin Birmingham’s Truman Capote Award Acceptance Speech, which he won for his book about the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses, is getting some well-deserved attention for its reflections on the state of the academy, criticism, and the powers that are shaping scholarship (away from projects like his) and destroying careers.

I recognize my own work in this line:

If my book deserves recognition, then we must also recognize that no young scholar with any sense would be foolish enough to write it. Graduate students must tailor their research projects to a fickle job market, and a book like mine simply doesn’t fit…. The most foolish mistake is addressing an audience beyond the academy. Publishing with Penguin or Random House should be a wonderful opportunity for a young scholar. Yet for most hiring committees a trade book is merely a book that did not undergo peer review. It’s extracurricular. My book exists because I was willing to give up a tenure-track job to write it.

I wouldn’t have written a book as intellectually ambitious and revisionist as REST when I was a young journeyman academic, and still wouldn’t have touched it until I had become a full professor and was untouchable (or had decided I DGAF). I always knew how the game was played. And I think my life would have been poorer and less interesting as a result.

Among other things, the experience of working with a trade press has challenged me in ways academic writing did not. Of course, you can rightly argue that I’ve merely traded one set of institutional and market constraints for another; but by virtue of its size and variety, I would argue that the world of trade publishing is one that’s receptive to a wider range of projects than academia. We never escape systems and incentives, but some are stricter than others.

Anyway, read Birmingham’s entire piece. It’s well worth it.

From working ON a book, to working WITH a book: How thinking about REST changes as we move to publication and I move ahead

This week I reviewed the dust jacket for REST. I’ve always liked the book’s cover, with its sling chair, but the whole package just looks terrific.

Proof of REST dust jacket

We were lucky to get a cross-section of great blurbs, from a variety of contributors, each of whom saw slightly different things in the book. It’s satisfying when readers see value in a book that you didn’t, or can really relate to a particular piece of it. You want people to be able to take your work and make it their own.

Indeed, over the last couple weeks, I’ve noticed my relationship with the book changing subtly. It’s moved from being something that I work on, to something that I work with; from a theory, backed up by a set of arguments and evidence that I have to shape, to an intellectual toolkit that I can now apply.

Morning edits

This is an intellectual version of the shift toward thinking of the book as a commodity in the marketplace, of watching it moving closer to production, of getting feedback on it from other people, and of seeing other people contributing to its final shape (and, one hopes, success as a product). I can no longer do anything to the content itself; and as my mind accepts that, it shifts to the mode of thinking about what it can do with the content.

It’s also driven by my decision to leave SBI, to devote myself full-time to writing and consulting about deliberate rest.

I realized that if I want REST to be a success, and if the ideas in it are to have any kind of impact in the world, I would have to work on them full-time.

So I’m now ramping up a new consultancy that’ll support my ongoing research on deliberate rest, and work with industries and organizations to apply those ideas. Having spent fifteen years as a futurist, I’ve done a LOT of workshop organizing, and spent a lot of time developing expertise around creating workshop processes and working with clients. It’s time to put that to use in a new area.

Brainstorming session on the future of science

Besides, as I’ve discovered (somewhat to my surprise) this is a kind of work I really like. Helping people explore and think through the practical implications of abstract ideas is not a skill you spend a lot of time developing as an academic; indeed, it’s safe to say that for many Ph.D.s, the question “so what’s the application of this idea?” is one that they tend to meet with derision, rather than enthusiasm.

Workshop

But over the years I’ve discovered that for my, thinking about what you can do with ideas is very rewarding. And deliberate rest is an idea I really believe in.

I didn’t realized any of this with THE DISTRACTION ADDICTION; I assumed that ideas get out in the world, and they succeed on their own. Wrong. So I don’t want to make the same mistake. I’ll make different ones, no doubt, but at least they’ll be different.

I’ll still be an occasional contractor at SBI, and contribute the odd piece or put an oar in the water for a couple unfinished projects with clients I like. And it’s a fine place; I’ve not left because I disliked it, or because I have ill feelings about it. But it’s time to focus on deliberate rest.

This is what happens when you write about your book cover

People find old postcards of sling chairs and send them to you. This is one from the 1980s that an aunt just found, scanned, and sent me.

Sling chairs

The chair from the cover of my book is even in the picture!

My next book, REST, is off to the presses

This weekend I finished reviewing the index and page proofs of my next book, REST. It now goes off to the printer, and the next time I see it will be December 6, when it hits store shelves.

Final REST cover

For those of you who are interested in the process of revising a book, I explain the process of copyediting and reviewing page proofs on my Deliberate Rest blog.

Of course, there’s plenty more to be done before the book hits the shelves: promotional campaigns to be designed, influencers to be tapped, journalists and producers to be approached about doing pieces about the book, and so on. New books aren’t finished the way, say, the Parthenon was finished; they’re “finished” the way a really good meal is finished when the cook puts it in the serving dish. It still needs to be brought to the table and served; the table has be set; and the restaurant needs to be decorated.

This work is something I knew nothing about the last time I published a trade book, and I’m really going to try not to underestimate it this time!

QOTD: Republican consultant Mike Murphy about trying to train Donald Trump

It’s like being Charlie Manson’s foxtrot instructor. You go out there, you teach him a few moves, and you think, ‘Hey, look at that, he can learn the foxtrot.’ And the next thing you know, he’s trying to put a pen in your eye, because he’s Charlie Manson.

Source: Live Coverage of the Republican National Convention: Day 4

Keep Me Posted

I recently got a message about the new Web comedy Keep Me Posted:

Keep Me Posted Teaser from Hillary Nussbaum on Vimeo.

As the Seed And Spark fundraiser explains:

We spend an embarrassing amount of time analyzing the nuances of that text from our latest Tinder match, or the meaning behind that random “like” on our last Facebook post, but what about the particulars of the way we communicate with our closest friends? 
 
Are we mistaking constant communication for true connection? 
 
Keep Me Posted is a 3×20 comedic web series that raises those questions and more. It follows the lives of three childhood friends stumbling towards adulthood, three friends who are constantly in touch, but still find themselves growing apart. As their lives diverge in significant, challenging ways for the first time, they hide their respective struggles behind a constant flurry of chipper texts and insincere status updates to project the impression that everything is just awesome.

Incidentally, I have that copy of Stephen King’s On Writing that they show at 1:26. It’s great. (It’s where he talks about writing as “creative sleep”.)

It’s hard to stay shocked by Trump, “but today helped”

Ezra Klein has a piece on why “Donald Trump’s speech introducing Mike Pence showed why he shouldn’t be president.” It’s full of entertaining stuff about his introduction of Mike Pence, but it also explains why his performance matters.

Back in May, EJ Dionne wrote that the hardest thing about covering Donald Trump would be “staying shocked.” Watching him, day after day, week after week, month after month, the temptation would be to normalize his behavior, “to move Trump into the political mainstream.”

But today helped. Donald Trump’s introduction of Mike Pence was shocking. Forget the political mainstream. What happened today sat outside the mainstream for normal human behavior….

As with all things Trump, the speech was funny and magnetic. The guy is great TV. But it was also wrong. It was a blue stand-up set delivered at a board of directors meeting, a cruel roast offered at a child’s birthday party. Selecting and introducing a vice president is a heavy duty in American politics; it is the most power one person will ever have to potentially choose the leader of the free world. But Trump couldn’t see past himself to match the moment.

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