The Act of Looking

Welcome to Digitally Literate, issue #335.

I worked on a couple of projects behind the scenes this week. More to come soon.

Last week I was honored to join Bryan Alexander on the Future Trends Forum for a wide-ranging discussion about edtech, social good, badges, and Google+. Watch the discussion here.

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Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

As part of his larger work, The Republic, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a simple story with a complex message. A group of prisoners is chained inside a cave their entire lives. On the wall in front of them, shadows are projected — because this is all they know, these shadows are their reality. Then one of these prisoners is set free and turns around to see the truth. The shadows are created by men carrying statues and shapes of things in front of a fire.

It’s been 50 years. I am not “Napalm Girl” anymore.

On June 8, 1972, a South Vietnamese plane dropped a napalm bomb on the village of Trảng Bàng, which had been attacked and occupied by North Vietnamese forces. Nine-year-old, Kim Phúc joined a group of civilians and soldiers fleeing the area. Associated Press photographer, Nick Ut took a photo of the fleeing group, which included the naked child. The photo and backstory of Napalm Girl have received a fair amount of critique, discussion, and debate over issues of war violence, censorship, and claims of “fake news.”

This week, Kim Phúc shared a piece in the New York Times on the picture that doesn’t rest. I have included several selections from the piece below without comment.

Photographs, by definition, capture a moment in time. But the surviving people in these photographs, especially the children, must somehow go on. We are not symbols. We are human. We must find work, people to love, communities to embrace, places to learn and to be nurtured.

I know what it is like to have your village bombed, your home devastated, to see family members die and bodies of innocent civilians lying in the street. These are the horrors of war from Vietnam memorialized in countless photographs and newsreels. Sadly, they are also the images of wars everywhere, of precious human lives being damaged and destroyed today in Ukraine.

They are, in a different way, also the horrific images coming from school shootings. We may not see the bodies, as we do with foreign wars, but these attacks are the domestic equivalent of war. The thought of sharing the images of the carnage, especially of children, may seem unbearable — but we should confront them. It is easier to hide from the realities of war if we don’t see the consequences.

I cannot speak for the families in Uvalde, Texas, but I think that showing the world what the aftermath of a gun rampage truly looks like can deliver the awful reality. We must face this violence head-on, and the first step is to look at it.

The January 6 Hearings Are Fighting for Your Attention

The insurrection hearings are this generation’s Watergate—but who’s watching? In this era of too-many-screens, it’s interesting to think about where people’s attention was directed.

Television, social media, news reports—there is no shortage of things to point our eyes at every day. It almost becomes meaningless, just pixels collected in different arrangements.

The hearings were carried by most major news networks, except for Fox News. David French indicates that many Republicans don’t know the facts, and Fox’s refusal to carry the hearings helps maintain that ignorance.

Philip Napoli suggests that if “we cannot look back on January 6 as a turning point in our country’s response to disinformation, then, sadly, it may well be the case that the violent assault on our democracy we witnessed was only a harbinger of things to come.”

Why Isn’t New Technology Making Us More Productive?

Innovations like cloud computing and artificial intelligence are hailed as engines of a coming productivity revival. But a broad payoff across the economy has been elusive.

In each issue of DL, I try to highlight one tension that exists as we live in an age of screentime. This week, I’ve been thinking about the prospects of productivity. I’m starting to think that getting more done is not the ultimate benefit. Collaboration across spaces is the key. The interconnected nature reduces ‘local maximas’ of knowledge, skill, and expertise.

The Democracy of the Future

I’ve been enjoying Tomas Pueyo’s series of posts looking at the intersection between technology and government. The Internet and Blockchain Will Kill Nation-States and The End of Nation-States unpack how communication technologies created the nation-state, and why the Internet will replace it with something else.

In this latest post, Pueyo draws on examples from Wikipedia, Twitter, ant colonies, and the peer review process to suggest what will emerge in its wake.

Given enough eyeballs, all problems are obvious.

When DRM Comes For Your Wheelchair

We’ve talked quite a bit about the challenges of DRM, or digital rights management. Lately, this has expanded to Keurig coffeemakers, light bulbs, and tractors. As an example, For instance, John Deere is trying to prevent farmers from making repairs under via DRM.

Cory Doctorow shares info from Stranded, a new report from the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), based on interviews with wheelchair users about their experiences with mechanical and electrical failures in their powered chairs. The post also shares news of Colorado’s recently passed Consumer Right To Repair Powered Wheelchairs.

How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve for Better Mental Health

The vagus nerve is one of the longest nerves in the body, communicating information on the gut, liver, heart, and lungs back to the brain. The vagus nerve is the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for helping your body to return to a state of balance.

If your vagus nerve is weak, it is harder for you to regulate your emotions. Contrarily, a higher vagal tone is associated with emotional stability and resilience.

How do you strengthen your vagal tone?

  • Cold exposure
  • Deep and slow breathing
  • Singing, humming, laughing, chanting, and gargling
  • Probiotics and gut health
  • Exercise
  • Massage

We’re looking at shadows on the cave walls. Let’s turn around to see the light that is casting these shadows.


The Colorful History of Haribo Goldbears, the World’s First Gummy Bears.

Steve!!! No gummy bears!!!

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