(Roughly) Daily

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work”*…

The Attention Economy…

“Attention discourse” is how I usually refer to the proliferation of essays, articles, talks, and books around the problem of attention (or, alternatively, distraction) in the age of digital media. While there have been important precursors to digital age attention discourse dating back to the 19th century, I’d say the present iteration probably kicked off around 2008 with Nick Carr’s essay in the Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” And while disinformation discourse has supplanted its place in the public imagination over the past few years, attention discourse is alive and well…

Attention discourse proceeds under the sign of scarcity. It treats attention as a resource, and, by doing so, maybe it has given up the game. To speak about attention as a resource is to grant and even encourage its commodification. If attention is scarce, then a competitive attention economy flows inevitably from it. In other words, to think of attention as a resource is already to invite the possibility that it may be extracted. Perhaps this seems like the natural way of thinking about attention, but, of course, this is precisely the kind of certainty [Ivan Illich] invited us to question…  

His crusade against the colonization of experience by economic rationality led him not only to challenge the assumption of scarcity and defend the realm of the vernacular, he also studiously avoided the language of “values” in favor of talk about the “good.” He believed that the good could be established by observing the requirements of proportionality or complementarity in a given moment or situation. The good was characterized by its fittingness. Illich sometimes characterized it as a matter of answering a call as opposed to applying a rule. 

“The transformation of the good into values,” he answers, “of commitment into decision, of question into problem, reflects a perception that our thoughts, our ideas, and our time have become resources, scarce means which can be used for either of two or several alternative ends. The word value reflects this transition, and the person who uses it incorporates himself in a sphere of scarcity.”

A little further on in the conversation, Illich explains that value is “a generalization of economics. It says, this is a value, this is a nonvalue, make a decision between the two of them. These are three different values, put them in precise order.” “But,” he goes on to explain, “when we speak about the good, we show a totally different appreciation of what is before us. The good is convertible with being, convertible with the beautiful, convertible with the true.”…

Your Attention Is Not a Resource“: L.M. Sacasas (@LMSacasas) wields Illich to argue that “you and I have exactly as much attention as we need.”

(image above: source)

* Mary Oliver

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As we go for the good, we might recall that it was on his date in 1965 that NASA launched Hughes Aircraft’s Early Bird (now known officially as Intelsat I) into orbit. It was the first communications satellite to be placed in synchronous earth orbit– and successfully demonstrated their (subsequently explosively growing) use for commercial communications.

“Early Bird” being prepared

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“To be overly concerned with the original materials, which are merely sentimental souvenirs of the past, is to fail to see the living building itself”*…

The human body replaces its own cells regularly. Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, have finally pinned down the speed and extent of this “turnover.” About a third of our body mass is fluid outside of our cells, such as plasma, plus solids, such as the calcium scaffolding of bones. The remaining two thirds is made up of roughly 30 trillion human cells. About 72 percent of those, by mass, are fat and muscle, which last an average of 12 to 50 years, respectively. But we have far more, tiny cells in our blood, which live only three to 120 days, and lining our gut, which typically live less than a week. Those two groups therefore make up the giant majority of the turnover. About 330 billion cells are replaced daily, equivalent to about 1 percent of all our cells. In 80 to 100 days, 30 trillion will have replenished—the equivalent of a new you…

Our Bodies Replace Billions of Cells Every Day: “A New You in 80 Days.”

* Douglas Adams, Last Chance to See

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As we sail on the Ship of Theseus, we might spare a thought for Hans Ernst August Buchner; he died on this date in 1902. A bacteriologist, he was a pioneer in the field of immunology, the first to discover a substance in blood, gamma globulins, natural bactericides capable of destroying bacteria.  He also worked with his brother Eduard Buchner, a chemist who won the Nobel Prize in 1907 for his work on fermentation (which helped pave the way for our understanding of the work of enzymes); Ernst had died in 1902, and so did not share in the honor.

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“Now I wanna remind everyone of the House of Mouse Rules: No smoking. No villainous schemes. And no guests eating other guests.”*…

Alligator and python

In addition to being home to men with questionable decision-making skills, Florida also seems to have some issues with bizarre animal behavior, whether it’s freezing iguanas dropping from trees or alligators battling pythons in the Everglades. When it comes to those animals, however, Floridians can truly put the blame on non-natives. Neither pythons nor green iguanas made the Sunshine State their home until we brought them there as pets.

In fact, there are lots of problematic invasive species that have spread through the pet trade, from predatory fish that can drag themselves between bodies of water to a crayfish that clones itself to reproduce. Those high-profile cases lead to some obvious questions, like whether pets really are more likely to be invasive and, if so, why?

Two Swiss researchers, Jérôme Gippeta and Cleo Bertelsmeier have now attempted to answer these questions. And their conclusion is that yes, our pets are more likely to be problems.

To answer the question of whether pets really are problematic, the researchers generated some basic statistics for different groups of animals (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish). These included estimates of the total number of species, as well as the number of those that are classified as invasive and the number that are part of the pet trade.

If pets were no more or less likely to be invasive, you’d expect to see the invasive ones occupy similar fractions of both the pet trade and the total number of species in that group. But that’s not what we see in any of the groups. Invasive mammal species were present at five times the rate in the pet trade as they are in the wild around the globe. There was a similar result in birds; for amphibians, invasive species were eight times more common in the pet trade and about 10 times more common in fish.

Overall, invasive species were 7.4 times more likely to be kept as pets than you’d expect based on their frequency among vertebrate populations.

But cause and effect can be difficult to disentangle. Do we choose species that are more likely to be invasive as pets? Or have pets ended up with more opportunities to invade new environments because we transport them around the world?…

Spoiler alert: it’s the former… A new study finds the factors making them easier to keep also help them spread: “Unfortunately, we like pets that are likely to be invasive species.”

* Mickey Mouse

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As we ponder proliferation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964 that a different kind of “invader,” the Beatles, set a record: they became the first artists to hold all top 5 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 on the same week, on April 4, 1964. 
#1. Can’t Buy Me Love
#2. Twist and Shout
#3. She Loves You
#4. I Want to Hold Your Hand
#5. Please Please Me
More Beatles on the Charts that week: #31 – I Saw Her Standing There, #41 – From Me To You, #46 – Do You Want To Know a Secret, #58 – All My Loving, #65 – You Can’t Do That, #68 – Roll Over Beethoven, #79 – Thank You Girl

At the time, the best-selling piece of Beatles merchandise was the “I Love Ringo” button.

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Written by LW

April 4, 2021 at 1:01 am

“There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is California.”*…

The gate at the Aetherius Society, founded by a man who claimed he was able to channel messages from an “interplanetary parliament” in outer space. 

Half a century ago, you could barely walk down the street in California without tripping over some kind of fringe spiritual sect or cult-like group. Pretty much every famous organization, guru, and spiritual trend of that era had ties to the Golden state – from the Maharishi to the People’s Temple, the “Moonies” to the New Age.

Now, with the exception of some Scientology buildings and the occasional Hare Krishna devotee, you almost never encounter fringe spiritual groups from that California golden age.

Some of the groups violently disbanded or their members died under horrific circumstances. Others slowly faded away, pushed out by California’s rising cost of living, or made obsolete by the fact that many of the things that made them appealing were absorbed into the mainstream: Fortune 500 CEOs now regularly attend Burning Man and crystals and Himalayan salt lamps can be purchased at Target. (The more nefarious side of fringe spiritual belief is also becoming increasingly mainstream, as seen in the rise of QAnon.)

But some of California’s fringe spiritual groups are still out there – little pockets of commune dwellers, transcendental meditators, and UFO worshippers dotted around the state…

Cult classics: the faded glory of California’s fringe sects – in pictures,” from Jamie Lee Curtis Taete (@JLCT on Twitter; @jamieleecurtistaete on Instagram)

* Edward Abbey

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As we become one with the universe, we might recall that, according to (separate but overlapping) deductions made by geologists and religious historians, it was on this date in 33 CE that Jesus was crucified.

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Written by LW

April 3, 2021 at 1:01 am

“I have no trouble with the twelve inches between my elbow and my palm. It’s the seven inches between my ears that’s bent.”*…

Humans are the only species that can throw well enough to kill rivals and prey. Because throwing requires the highly coordinated and extraordinarily rapid movements of multiple body parts, there was likely a long history of selection favoring the evolution of expert throwing in our ancestors.

Most people probably don’t think throwing is important outside of sports because they’ve forgotten its usefulness. Part of that has to do with the fact that people have been using weapons like bows and firearms for centuries.

But before the invention of these weapons, our hunter-gatherer ancestors threw darts, knives, spears, sticks and stones at rivals and prey. Even today, stones remain effective weapons; you’ll see protesters heave stones at police and stoning used as a form of punishment in some places.

Darwin considered the evolution of throwing to be critical to the success of our ancestors. As he wrote in “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex,” it allowed “the progenitors of man” to better “defend themselves with stones or clubs, to attack their prey, or otherwise to obtain food.”

The development of the skill begins with the evolution of bipedal locomotion, or walking on two feet. This happened about 4 million years ago, and it freed the arms and hands to learn new abilities like making tools, carrying goods and throwing…

Why humans are the only species that can throw fast enough to kill: “How humans became the best throwers on the planet.”

Read the underlying research in The Quarterly Review of Biology here and here.

See also: “The Long, Sweaty History of Working Out.”

* Tug McGraw (pictured above; source)

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As we wind up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1931 that then-17 year old Jackie Mitchell, of the Chattanooga Lookouts (AA), pitched in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees. One of the first female pitchers in professional baseball history, she became legendary when she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in succession.

Jackie Mitchell with Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, and (in the suit) Joe Engel

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