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Posts Tagged ‘timeline

“What might once have been called advertising must now be understood as continuous behavior modification on a titanic scale, but without informed consent”*…

Illustration by Anders Nilsen

“Which category have they put you in?”

This sinister question—at least, it was meant to sound sinister—headlined the advertising copy for The 480, a 1964 novel by Eugene Burdick. His previous best sellers, The Ugly American and Fail-Safe, had caused sensations in political circles, and the new one promised to do the same. Its jacket featured the image of a punched card. The title referred to 480 categories of voter, defined by region, religion, age, and other demographic characteristics, such as “Midwestern, rural, Protestant, lower income, female.” Many readers recoiled from the notion of being sorted into one of these boxes. The New York Times’s reviewer called The 480 a “shock novel” and found it implausible.

What was so shocking? What was implausible? The idea that a company might use computer technology and behavioral science to gather and crunch data on American citizens, with the nefarious goal of influencing a presidential election.

In the 1950s and 1960s this seemed like science fiction. Actually, The 480 was a thinly disguised roman à clef, based on a real-life company called Simulmatics, which had secretly worked for the 1960 campaign of John F. Kennedy. Burdick had been a political operative himself and knew the Simulmatics founders well. The company’s confidential reports and memoranda went straight into his prose. And the 480 categories—listed in an appendix to the novel—were the real Simulmatics voter types, the creation of what one of its founders called “a kind of Manhattan Project gamble in politics.”

Simulmatics was founded in 1959 and lasted eleven years. Jill Lepore mentioned its involvement in the Kennedy campaign in These Truths (2018), her monumental history of the United States; she was already on the trail of the story she tells in her new book, If Then. Lepore is a brilliant and prolific historian with an eye for unusual and revealing stories, and this one is a remarkable saga, sometimes comical, sometimes ominous: a “shadow history of the 1960s,” as she writes, because Simulmatics stumbled through the decade as a bit player, onstage for the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the Great Society, the riots and protests. It began with grand ambitions to invent a new kind of predictive behavioral science, in a research environment increasingly tied to a rising defense establishment amid the anxiety of the cold war. It ended ignominiously, in embarrassment and bankruptcy.

Irving Kristol, the future architect of neoconservativism, dismissed Simulmatics in 1964 as “a struggling little company which, despite the fact that it worked on a few problems for the Kennedy organization in 1960, has since had a difficult time making ends meet,” and he wasn’t wrong. Today it is almost completely forgotten. Yet Lepore finds in it a plausible untold origin story for our current panopticon: a world of constant surveillance, if not by the state then by megacorporations that make vast fortunes by predicting and manipulating our behavior—including, most insidiously, our behavior as voters…

The ever-illuminating James Gleick (@JamesGleick) unpacks the remarkable Jill Lepore‘s new history, If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future: “Simulating Democracy.”

See also: this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek, and for historical perspective, “Age of Invention: The Tools of Absolutism.”

* Jaron Lanier (see, e.g., here and here)

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As we think about the targets painted on our chests, we might recall that it was on this date in 2011 that Facebook introduced the Timeline as the design of a user’s main Facebook page.

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Written by LW

September 22, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Sure, everything is ending… but not yet.”*…

 

From 365 CE to 10100 years from now, apocalyptic predictions and who made them: the interactive “Timeline of When the World Ended.” (Lots of notice for our old friend Harold Camping.)

* Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad

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As we sharpen a Sense of the The Ending, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that a team of scientists led by Enrico Fermi, working inside an enormous tent on a squash court under the stands of the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field, achieved the first controlled nuclear fission chain reaction… laying the foundation for the atomic bomb and later, nuclear power generation.

“…the Italian Navigator has just landed in the New World…”
– Coded telephone message confirming first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, December 2, 1942.

Illustration depicting the scene on Dec. 2, 1942 (Photo copyright of Chicago Historical Society)

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Indeed, exactly 15 years later, on this date in 1957, the world’s first full-scale atomic electric power plant devoted exclusively to peacetime uses, the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, reached criticality; the first power was produced 16 days later, after engineers integrated the generator into the distribution grid of Duquesne Light Company.

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“There’s an old saying about those who forget history. I don’t remember it, but it’s good.”*…

 

Matan Stauber‘s “Histography” is, if not the most complete timeline ever, certainly close…

“Histography” is interactive timeline that spans across 14 billion years of history, from the Big Bang to 2015.
The site draws historical events from Wikipedia and self-updates daily with new recorded events.
The interface allows for users to view between decades to millions of years.
The viewer can choose to watch a variety of events which have happened in a particular period or to target a specific event in time. For example you can look at the past century within the categories of war and inventions.

* Stephen Colbert

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As we remember, with Churchill that, “The farther backward [we] can look, the farther forward [we] are likely to see,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1609 that “Three Blind Mice” was first published.  Appearing in Deuteromelia or The Seconde part of Musicks melodie, a book edited by Thomas Ravenscroft (who may also have authored the rhyme, though there’a case to be made that it dates back to the days of Queen Mary, and refers to her punishment of “The Oxford Martyrs“).

The original lyrics were:

Three Blinde Mice,

Three Blinde Mice,

Dame Iulian,

Dame Iulian,

the Miller and his merry olde Wife,

she scrapte her tripe licke thou the knife.

The lyrics as we’ve come to know them appeared in the mid-19th century in a children’s anthology collected by James Orchard Halliwell.

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Written by LW

October 12, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Time is a game played beautifully by children”*…

 

Readers will recall our earlier adventures in space and scale (e.g., here).  Now, from Wait But Why, a trip through time.  Starting with the near-in (above), Tim Urban has created a series timelines, each of which nests into the next…

Until one has “traveled” all the way to the entirety of time.

See them all (and larger) at “Putting Time in Perspective.” (G-rated version here)

* Heraclitus, Fragments

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As we check our watches, we might send culturally-relevant birthday greetings to James Mooney; he was born on this date in 1861.  A pioneering ethnographer, he started working in 1885 with the Bureau of American Ethnology in Washington, D.C.  He compiled a list of tribes and their members which contained 3,000 names, but quit after the US Army’s 1890 massacre of Lakota people at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

Mooney did extensive work with the Cherokee and Kiowa tribes.  His most notable works were his ethnographic studies of the Ghost Dance after Sitting Bull’s death in 1890, a widespread 19th-century religious movement among various Native American culture groups, and his deciphering of the Kiowa calendar.

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Written by LW

February 10, 2015 at 1:01 am

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself”*…

 

 click here for larger

From Lapham’s Quaterly, a timeline of time-keeping

* Andy Warhol

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As we adjust our dials, we might send transcendental birthday greetings to Albert Hofmann; he was born on this date in 1906.  As a young chemist at Sandoz in Switzerland, Hofmann was searching for a respiratory and circulatory stimulant when he fabricated lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD); handling it, he absorbed a bit through his fingertips and realized that the compound had psychoactive effects.  Three days later, on April 19, 1943– a day now known as “Bicycle Day”– Hofmann intentionally ingested 250 micrograms of LSD then rode home on a bike, a journey that became, pun intended, the first intentional acid trip.  Hofmann was also the first person to isolate, synthesize, and name the principal psychedelic mushroom compounds psilocybin and psilocin.

He died in 2008, at the age of 102.

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Written by LW

January 11, 2015 at 1:01 am

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