Tag Wonder

Astonishment, Excitement, Embarrassment, Etc.

Bethany L. King/flickr

It is, I think you will agree, the rather rare headline that contains a total of eleven exclamation marks. Nonetheless, there it was, on the editorial page of the April 5 New York Times: “OMG!!! OED!!! LOL!!!!!“—a lighthearted, unsigned opinion celebrating the addition of a pair of Internet- and text-message-boosted Three-Letter Initialisms1 into the greatest TLI of them all: the Oxford English Dictionary.

There were a lot of similar headlines that week, conveying much the same news: that the OED had announced, as they do from time to time, a set of new and revised definitions—part of their lexicographers’ never-ending task of making sure the flagship dictionary of the English language remains up to date. Hence, this month, the new inclusion of fnarr-fnarr, singledom, banh mi, smack-talking, stonewash, tinfoil hat, behavioral economics, wassup, biker, runathon, happy camper, Second Coming, rumble-de-thumps (along with dozens of other R-words), and as a headliner, OMG: “colloq. (freq. in the language of electronic communications) . . . Expressing astonishment, excitement, embarrassment, etc.: ‘oh my God!'”

Citation Needed

wikipedia

This year marks the tenth birthday of Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia that anyone (with a computer, an Internet connection, and nothing better to do) can edit. Quite often I fit those categories to a T, but the sad truth is that in my years of wikiresearching, wikiquoting, and wikiforwarding article links to unsuspecting friends, I have only one edit to my name (or rather, my IP address). It’s not that I haven’t found mistakes, or inconsistencies, or editorial potholes: rather, it’s that those are part of what I’ve come to love Wikipedia—all ten years and 3.5 million entries of it—for.

The joys and perils of overlapping reading

cc Shutterhacks/flickr

There are many reasons why I was never able to finish reading Crime and Punishment—the type was a bit on the small side, the names and the chapters were a little too long, the plot reminded me of a bad experience I had in high school—but, in hindsight, I’d say the blame falls heaviest at the feet of two men. I am speaking, of course, of Gandhi and Hitler.

Allow me to explain.

Performance’s magical mix

My job as a performer is to make something memorable. If I do something nice but forgettable, it needn’t have happened. But if it sinks inside someone else’s brain and then they make connections, that’s something worth doing, because you’re going to intimate places in someone else’s psyche. I spend a lot of time thinking about what is the magical mix that can make the thing I love to do be so wonderful for others.

—Yo-Yo Ma, interviewed by David Mermelstein, 29 July 2010

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Subtleties

Still from Fellini’s (1963). Not the movie I’ve been talking about, but you get the idea.

One Friday night in the early 1990s, my family rented an old black-and-white foreign film for our weekend’s entertainment. I don’t recall the movie’s title, let alone what any of us thought of it when we viewed it, but I remember very clearly a bit of promotional copy on the front of the VHS cassette’s cardboard slipcase, in the space usually reserved for Siskel and Ebert’s thumbs: NOW WITH YELLOW SUBTITLES!

Sublime technologies

I agree, but I also protest: Henry Adams’ awe at seeing a 40-foot dynamo attractively displayed at the 1900 Paris Exhibition is one thing, but my guess is that an early-20th-century worker-with-dynamos might have eventually found them boring, utilitarian, only worthy of special emotion when they malfunctioned. And is awe of machines truly absent when Apple can call a new product “magical and revolutionary” and one can make a reasonably intelligent case that it might be? For my part, I do feel wonder along with fear and trembling on occasion over the mysteries of email, say nothing of free Skype conferences with friends in Africa, or the reasonable expectation that I can now find out most things I want to know nearly instantaneously.

In the early age of machines, they inspired awe by proving capable of doing what man could never do alone (such as power an entire factory), or what we once believed only man could do (play chess). Now we expect our machines to do just about everything for us, from organizing our finances to writing our grocery lists. Our machines not only ease the mundane burdens of daily life (cooking, cleaning, working), but also serve, increasingly, as both our primary source of entertainment and the means for maintaining intimate relationships with others. Henry Adams’s dynamo has been replaced by Everyman’s iPod, and awe has given way to complacence and dependence. Your computer’s e-mail program doesn’t inspire awe; it is more like a dishwasher than a dynamo. Nineteenth-century rhapsodies to the machines that tamed nature, such as the steam engine, have given way to impatience with the machines that don’t immediately indulge our whims.


from “Awe and the Machine,” by Christine Rosen, In Character, A Journal of Everyday Virtues, 1 March 2010

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Perfect boredom

On of the more facile critiques of the idea of heaven is that, what with all the sitting around on clouds strumming harps to no end, it’ll be boring. That’s hardly the true picture of the culture-packed-and-meaningful-work-filled New Jerusalem of the Bible’s final chapters, but one wonders whether there will be room for boredom in a place without sorrow or pain. What will redeemed bordom look like? Perhaps something like this or, more to the point, something like peace: the lion shall laze with the lamb.

There’s something exquisite about boredom. Like melancholy and its darker cousin sadness, boredom is related to emptiness and meaninglessness, but in a perfectly enjoyable way. It’s like wandering though the National Gallery, being surrounded by all those great works of art, and deciding not to look at them because it’s a pleasure just walking from room to room enjoying the squeak of your soles on the polished floor. Boredom is the no-signal sound on a blank television, the closed-down monotone of a radio in the middle of the night. It’s an uninterrupted straight line.

Actually, my idea of boredom has little to do with wealthy surroundings. It’s about a certain mindset. Perfect boredom is the enjoyment of the moment of stasis that comes between slowing down and speeding up – like sitting at a traffic light for a particularly long time. It’s at the cusp of action, because however enjoyable it may be, boredom is really not a long-term aspiration. It’s for an afternoon before a sociable evening. It marks that point in a holiday when you’ve shrugged off all the concerns of work and home, explored the hotel and got used to the swimming pool, and everything has become totally familiar. ‘I’m bored’ just pops into your mind one morning as you’re laying your towel over the sunlounger before breakfast, and then you think ‘How lovely.’ It’s about the stillness and familiarity of that precise moment before the inevitable anxiety about packing up and heading back to God-knows-what.


from “La Vie D’Ennui,” by Colin Bisst, Philosophy Now, February/March 2010 :: via Arts & Letters Daily

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Some awe

What kinds of articles are most likely to be emailed by users of the New York Times website? Researchers did a six-month study of the most-emailed list and discovered that, more than utility or surprisingness or feel-good factors (which were all helpful for an article’s prospects), it was a sense of awe that made a given article most likely to be shared.

One emotion we focus on in particular is awe. Stimuli that open the mind to vast and often unconsidered possibilities can inspire awe, a unique human emotion that expands a reader’s frame of reference (Keltner and Haidt 2003). Awe is the emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than the self (Haidt 2006). It occurs when two conditions are met (Keltner and Haidt 2003). First, people experience something vast: either physically vast such as the grand canyon, conceptually vast such as a grand theory or finding, or socially vast such as fame or power. Second, the vast experience cannot be accommodated by existing mental structures. Intellectual epiphanies, natural wonders, and great works of art can all make people feel a sense of awe (Shiota, Keltner, and Mossman 2007). Similarly, news stories about a treatment that may cure AIDS or a hockey goalie who continues to play even with brain cancer may both inspire some level of awe.

Awe may be linked to social transmission for a number of reasons. First, awe encourages people to connect with others and spread the word. People who have had epiphanies through drug use or religious experiences, for example, seem to have a deep need to talk about them or proselytize (James 1902; Keltner and Haidt 2003). Other types of awe-inducing experiences may activate the same psychological mechanisms evoked by epiphanies. Second, awe inducing stimuli also tend to be entertaining, inspiring, and contain a great deal of information. Each one of these aspect in itself is a reason that people may share things. Third, because awe-inducing experiences are characterized by the accommodation of existing mental structures, they should be particularly likely to drive people to talk to others to understand how they feel (Rime, Mesquita, Philippot, and Boca 1991). Finally, awe-inducing experiences encourage people to look beyond themselves and deepen connections to the broader social world (Shiota, Keltner, and Mossman 2007). All of these factors suggest that awe should lead people to want to share.


from “Social Transmission and Viral Culture,” by Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 2010 :: via NYTimes.com

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Forbidden fruits, delightful longings

cc lusikkolbaskin/flickr

A few years ago, a friend of mine was going through U.S. customs at the Blackpool Border Crossing on the highway that runs south from Quebec into New York. He said he had nothing to declare, but then, as the sidearmed customs agent ran through the list of possible contraband (weapons? cash? drugs? agricultural products?), my friend made a fatal pause and then, the question repeated, fessed up: “I have some fruit in my backpack. Is there any way I can bring it in?”

Type the Sky, by Lisa Rienermann

This lovely photographic alphabet—which incidentally wonderfully captures the urban inner-space of building courtyards—won a deserved prize from the Type Designers Club of New York City.

photo


from “type the sky,” photographs by Lisa Rienermann, 2007 :: via ReubenMiller

Originally published at culture-making.com.