Paul Miller

Reporting from his Internet blackout, Paul Miller writes:

What I do know is that I’m a lot more “smart” in an internet culture than in this written culture I’ve exiled myself to. In an internet culture, it matters more that I know where the facts can be found, and how to piece them together, curate, and redistribute, than how long I can keep my head submerged in 300 pages of non-fiction. When reading news on the internet, I’m defined by my filters, but when reading a newspaper, I’m defined by my patience for skimming through stories about crises in the Middle East.

I’ve found myself buying books on sprees that have more similarity to opening multiple tabs in a browser than the actions of a rational shopper. I page through my magazines like an RSS reader, where “marking read” means reading the headline, not necessarily reading the article. I’ve long since run out of shelf space for new titles, I’m a few pages into a few dozen books, ranging from Plato’s Meno to John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead, and I’ve thrown away numerous issues of The New Yorker that I’ve never even observed the table of contents of. I seem to be collecting more rubber bands than facts from my New York Times subscription. I’m drowning.

When reflecting upon Paul’s endeavor, I hadn’t quite appreciated the self-inflicted blindness that such a decision might entail. Bereft of connections to Wikipedia, Google, and whatever other means we have assembled for attaining knowledge, Paul has lost the means for quickly and easily getting ahold of information — both serious and incidental.

I remember, years ago, for matters of immaterial trivia, my friends and I would often send a text message to a service based in England. You could ask a question, and in return you’d receive an answer within the character limit. Although such a service has been quickly antiquated by ubiquitous connections, I remember the distinct sense of power that such a service extended to its users. Suddenly, regardless of your level of comprehension of a topic, anyone could “knowledgeably” chime in on a discussion.

In many respects, this false sense of knowledgeability has been perpetuated by the Internet, and our always-on culture. Much as people often criticize calculators in the classroom for removing the difficulties of working through problems, smartphones coupled with Wikipedia have enhanced our respective senses of intelligence. In my memory, I can’t think of anyone that has challenged or questioned the ramifications of such a state of affairs, but I imagine it’s likely to become one of the most important issues in modern education.

Despite the initial swelling of aggression toward Paul’s life-sans-Internet experiment, I continue to be fascinated by his findings. The Internet does, indeed, enhance our lives — and it will continue to do so — but it’s endlessly important to consider what such enhancement entails.

The Benefits of Being an Apologist


The infrastructural framework beneath ONE37 is utterly and definably simplistic. Built atop SquareSpace 5, the production of content is characterized by a distinct and indefatigable sense of seamlessness. The importance of this frictionless environment is of enormous personal significance, insofar as it facilitates a thoughtless means through which thoughts may be shared. In an environment known for its ever-quickening pace, sharing an opinion at the right moment is not only exciting, but also tantamount to the associative prosperity of the outlet. Be it a timely quip on Twitter during a keynote, a reflection upon a new Wall Street Journal article, or the notation of the iterative release of a new app, few boundaries stand between myself and my audience.

Foregoing needless difficulties has allowed for my opinions to become readily shareable at virtually any moment. Moreover, the breadth of coverage and understanding has grown in an associative curve. Thus, as it stands, ONE37 has become — for me — an outlet of indisputable excitement and learning.

Oddly, from my experience thus far, there is a palpable tension between these aforementioned results. “Excitement,” although fun and endearing, is often the culprit for grammatical errors, nearsightedness, and, most of all, the reinforcement of my naivet√©. “Learning,” on the other hand, acts as the filter through which such boyish excitement may pass. Whereas I may’ve once leapt to write about a given topic with little forethought, today I meter this reflexively gleeful demeanor through a sturdy infrastructure of experience, care, and contextual knowledge.

And yet, for all of the knowledge that has been consumed, I frequently choose to recklessly abandon such basic tenets of reason in favor of awe. In many respects, regardless of any judgment for such behavior, I’m genuinely pleased I’ve given myself such freedom in my writing.

Consider, for instance, my review of Sparrow for iPhone. Despite the gaping lack of push notification in the retail version, I produced a glowing endorsement of the app — an endorsement I utterly stand by today. For all of the astoundingly obvious flaws, the nature of my person is such that I found myself endlessly captivated by the design leanings of the user experience. Following years of Mail.app dedication — based solely upon de facto choice — Sparrow’s thoughtful implementation was unquestionably deserving of praise. Despite any reasoning otherwise, however, my review of the app ought to have objectively discerned good from bad — examined flaws on equal level to benefits. Instead, I described an ostensibly obnoxious, impractical, and fruitless manner in which the end-user might justify the usage of Sparrow as their default iOS client.

In other words, through the sacrifice of the objective integrity of the review, I firmly instantiated myself as — what ultimately amounts to — a non-traditional apologist.

Such a descriptor is one of the most controversial stigmas available to the vocabulary of someone within the technology community. Leveling the accusation that someone is an apologist — in a traditional sense — calls into question the very essence of a person’s psyche, their personal leanings, and, most importantly, their integrity. From my perspective, such an accusation need not be indicative of such negativity. In fact, in my eyes, it is one of the most affable characteristics a person might hold.

Regarding the words on ONE37 as being tempered by a distinctly definable sense of apology is, in my eyes, an endorsement of my perception of the world in which we live. Rather than focusing upon the objective pessimism and negativity apparent within a great many works — both business and creative — I have made a personal choice to build my opinions and derive my joy from the innovative creations of a great many people. Excitement, for me, permeates the bounds of realism and idealism, logical and illogical, reasonable and unreasonable. For all of the flaws evident in a given piece of art, writing, or string of code, I choose to focus upon the positives therein.

Sparrow, despite its glaring flaws, is one of the most attractive and pleasurable apps available on the App Store today. Although I cannot use it in the manner I suggested in my review, I continue to sustain and cultivate a psychological reverence for the skill that comprises such a piece of software. In other words, although it would be much easier to do otherwise, I choose to embrace an environment of willful positivity.

It has never been easier for the average person to make a measured and poignant impact upon the world. Even in the most remote town or village in this country, a person can reflexively decide to build a website, a weblog, a Windows Phone app, an Android app, or an iOS app, and then simply build it. Thanks to this remarkable phenomenon, the Internet has been positively deluged with creative works — the vast majority of which are characterized by a distinct sense of mediocrity. But, for all of the mediocrity and failings, I tend not to think in such a manner. Instead, for even the most insufferable of apps, the most disjointed of articles, or the most garish of designs, I respectfully choose to see only the foundational effort beneath.

To join Twitter, install WordPress, and cultivate an online personality is easy. The process is made unquestionably easier by taking the work of others, and mindlessly treading upon it. Raining upon the most personal of efforts, standing upon the shoulders of those who’ve dared to try something new, or arrogantly casting aside someone’s best work for little reason aside from personal gain are each endeavors I simply cannot subscribe to. There is, indeed, merit in objectively considering a given subject but, conversely, there is a time and place for such behavior. Moreover, I tend to think such “time and place” is increasingly waning into stagnant depletion.

Innovation should be regarded for all of its beauty, rather than its blemishes. Ideas should be given time to steep before they are aggressively crumpled and cast aside. Negativity should be metered and relegated to the bounds of constructivism, not held as a fundamental tenet of poorly perceived self-betterment. Change deserves dialectic discussion and appreciation, certainly not reflexive fearfulness.

Thus, as I sit here writing, the words flow easily — my impact upon the digital world endlessly easy to share with as many people as might enjoy to observe it — I have come to appreciate that it is this seamlessness between person and digital world that has facilitated such positivity. That the tension between excitement and learning, and appreciation and fairness has come to constitute an environment in which I willingly choose to pursue the path less travelled. I choose to embrace the stigma, and I choose to enjoy the wonderful benefits of being an apologist for the brilliance of creativity, ability, and human endeavor.

Sitting here, as the sun begins to creep delicately across the mounds of magazines and papers strewn across my workspace, I conclusively contend that it should not be the mess that is deserving of attention, but rather the beautiful dawning morning outside the window. The world is all the more bright if you embrace such a perspective, regardless of what it is that you choose to behold.

"After 244 Years, Encyclopaedia Britannica Stops the Presses"

Julie Bosman reports for The New York Times:

After 244 years, the Encyclopaedia Britannica is going out of print.

Those coolly authoritative, gold-lettered reference books that were once sold door-to-door by a fleet of traveling salesmen and displayed as proud fixtures in American homes will be discontinued, company executives said.

In an acknowledgment of the realities of the digital age — and of competition from the Web site Wikipedia — Encyclopaedia Britannica will focus primarily on its online encyclopedias and educational curriculum for schools. The last print version is the 32-volume 2010 edition, which weighs 129 pounds and includes new entries on global warming and the Human Genome Project.

A logical decision but, still, what a shame.

(Image via Flickr)

Former Apple Intern May Have Inadvertently Aided in the Creation of Apple's Textbook Initiative

Following Apple's announcements earlier today, Brian Lam has posted a fascinating story over at The Wirecutter regarding the origin of Apple's new textbook initiative. In short, back in 2008, a former Apple intern, Joseph Peters, introduced an early concept for Apple's implementation of the textbook for an internal competition, iContest.

Peters is careful not to attribute Apple's new textbook initiative to himself, but today's announcements certainly suggest that his presentation might have had a profound and lasting impact upon the Apple executive team. In the interview, Peters says:

Well the original idea came from my frustration with how much Textbooks were and I did some research about the market which showed that prices were artificially inflated because publishers were losing revenue from the resale of used textbooks.

Peters' original presentation even included mockups of iTunes and iOS allowing for the perusal of textbooks.

Whether or not Apple's current implementation is based upon Mr. Peters' concept or not, it is certainly intriguing to consider the potential that an enormous company like Apple embraced the ideas of the youth. Indeed, Lam writes:

This seems like a smart thing for an enormous company to do when they're trying to keep start-up values. It's a neat little hack to the innovator's dilemma. Also, the idea only cost them a few Macbook Airs.

Check out the interview in its entirety at The Wirecutter (a fantastic site worth bookmarking if you haven't already).