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The share of Americans who are either working or actively looking for work — i.e.: the labor force participation rate — fell to its lowest point since 1979, according to today’s jobs report.

If 37 percent of Americans aren’t in the labor force, what are they doing?

Bloomberg Businessweek has a beautiful graphical explanation. Click it.

 

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The reason the labor force’s share of the country is shrinking has to do with both economics and demographics. We’re becoming an older country, and should expect more Americans in their 60s to retire in the next decade. College matriculation rates also rose through the recession as the opportunity cost of going to school fell because the large Millennial cohort saw there were so few jobs for young people. Meanwhile the number of people who want to work but just don’t think there are jobs for them have grown significantly and disability rolls have also increased fast enough that some people suspect that discouraged workers are claiming disability insurance to make money.The upshot is that the falling labor force is a bad thing, absolutely — more workers means more stuff, more wealth, less government spending on the indigent, and so forth — but it’s also not something we can totally control. We can liberalize immigration to add more working people and resist budget cuts to keep deficit spending high while the private sector is recovering. But much of the decline in labor force participation is that one thing that not even the most ambitious policy wonk could ever imagine reversing. That thing is time. Older countries work less.

via Master Feed : The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/a-spectacular-colorful-chart-of-who-works-and-who-doesnt-work-in-america-today/274725/

x-post by Jered Higgins

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A lot of Americans don’t know the precise details of how their country works. That’s less a criticism than a fact — people are busy, the way the government is run is complicated and not always transparent, and folks have plenty of other things to worry about, especially these days. And yet I’m always struck by how little the fact-based insider conversations about key budgetary matters seem to penetrate the national consciousness, allowing misperceptions to play a major role in shaping the national policy conversation. Three recent examples:

1. Almost no one knows this, but the budget deficit is going down, not up.

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According to the Congressional Budget Office:

If current laws remain in place, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates, the federal budget deficit will total $845 billion in fiscal year 2013; this will be the first time since 2008 that the budget shortfall will be less than $1 trillion. At 5.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), that deficit will be well below the peak of 10.1 percent in 2009 but still larger than in all but one year between 1947 and 2008 (see Figure 1-1). As a result, debt held by the public is estimated to increase to 76 percent of GDP by the end of 2013, the largest ratio since 1950.

And yet, reported Bloomberg’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis in February:

The size and trajectory of the U.S. deficit is poorly understood by most Americans, with 62 percent saying it’s getting bigger, 28 percent saying it’s staying about the same this year, and just 6 percent saying it’s shrinking. The Congressional Budget Office reported Feb. 6 that the federal budget deficit is getting smaller, falling to $845 billion this year — the first time in five years that the gap between taxes and spending will be less than $1 trillion.

2. People think balancing the budget will lead to job growth. In fact, in the absence of strong economic growth or other sources of increased revenue, economists believe that dramatically cutting the federal budget enough to balance it would lead to job cuts and economic contraction in the short term. This is what we’re seeing already with the much smaller cut of the sequester — job cuts, pay cuts, furloughs, and so on. It’s all expected to be a minor drag on the economy, clipping the rate of growth of a recovery that’s just starting to heat up. But according to Politico, internal Republican polling shows that people believe cutting even more jobs by cutting the federal government by another order of magnitude will lead to more jobs, rather than more unemployment:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), GOP leadership staff and Ryan himself were all briefed on the poll results, according to several GOP sources.

The poll showed that 45 percent of Democratic voters think “balancing … the federal budget would significantly increase economic growth and create millions of American jobs.” A sky-high 61 percent of independents and 76 percent of Republicans agree….

Seventy percent of voters in districts Republicans are targeting, and 67 percent of swing district voters support balancing the budget by reforming entitlements and cutting spending.

3. People think the country is much less economically unequal than it is. This extraordinary video tells the tale of how Americans think wealth is distributed in the United States, showing that “the ideal [wealth distribution] is as far removed from our perception of reality as the actual distribution is from what we think exists in this country.”

It’s been viewed nearly 5 million times, and if you haven’t watched it already, you should.

x-post by Jered Higgins

90,000 years of history in a 134-second video? NowThis News, the social and mobile video news network, does it here, highlighting a few pivotal points in the nation’s evolution. It’s an ambitious montage with a suitably modest conclusion: “the future of Jordan is still uncertain, and in that way — and that way alone — nothing ever changes.”

Don’t miss Jeffrey Goldberg’s profile of King Abdullah II, “The Modern King in the Arab Spring.”

via Master Feed : The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/video/archive/2013/03/a-brief-visual-history-of-jordan-in-134-seconds/274187/

x-post by Jered Higgins

A personnel change suggests Google is setting itself up for the moment when Android (for mobile) and Chrome (for PCs) become one

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Sundar Pichai is now Google’s top general in the battle for the hearts and minds of consumers of every kind of personal computer. (AP/Jeff Chiu)

Google’s master plan for mobile is finally coming into focus.

The latest development: Andy Rubin, who has run the Android mobile operating system since 2004, even before it was acquired by Google, is stepping down. Taking over Android will be Sundar Pichai, currently the head of Google’s Chrome web browser and Chrome OS project. And here’s where Google shows its hand: Even as he takes on new responsibility for Google’s mobile strategy, Pichai will remain in charge of Chrome.

Somewhere in the afterlife, Steve Jobs just yelled, “Boom!”

The distinction between PCs and mobile devices is blurrier than ever, and Google seems to be setting itself up for the moment when Android (for mobile devices) and Chrome (for PCs) become one.

In 2011, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said that Android and Chrome OS would some day fuse. Android currently runs the majority of smartphones in the world, while Chrome OS is Google’s successful but still nascent attempt to provide people with an alternative to Windows on their notebook and desktop PCs. Putting a single person in charge of both Android and Chrome at once is rather transparently the fastest way to get both projects headed toward some kind of union.

Schmidt has also said that Chrome OS is for devices with keyboards, and Android is for devices without. But as the world fills with all manner of hybrid beasts–tablets with keyboards, laptops that convert to tablets, smartphones that become tablets, gigantic smartphones and even notebooks designed to run Windows and Android simultaneously–it’s apparent that these distinctions are, if not exactly meaningless, then at least increasingly unhelpful. People are having fun with and getting work done on whatever device is at hand. Call them mobile PCs.

THE CHROMEBOOK PIXEL

The baffling, tantalizing Chromebook Pixel.AP/Jeff Chiu

Google recently released the Chromebook Pixel, a high-powered laptop that only runs its own Chrome OS. The operating system is good, but it isn’t nearly as capable as Windows or Mac OS X, and its primary talent right now is a great web browsing experience and native integration with Google’s cloud services like Gmail and Drive. In other words, it’s great for cheap laptops, but Chrome OS simply isn’t doing anything taxing enough to warrant all the horsepower and expense of the Chromebook Pixel. Reviewers savaged it accordingly.

But now we see where Google is going with all of this. Like the operating system that runs on Apple’s iPhones and iPads, one of the strengths of Android is its enormous library of “native” apps–that is, applications that you download to the device before using. Native applications can do things web-based applications  still can’t, like intensive video editing and high-end gaming.

Once Google fuses Android and Chrome OS, Chrome will get the huge library of native applications that it currently lacks, and Android could gain the desktop-like features that make Chrome so useful for getting real work done. Some of these advantages are quite simple: Chrome has true “windowing,” which means that the web applications running on it can be run in individual windows instead of browser tabs or, as is common in mobile operating systems, as full-screen apps.

AVOIDING MICROSOFT’S MISTAKES

Microsoft Surface with Windows 8

Valve CEO Gabe Newell called Windows 8 “this giant sadness.”AP/Elaine Thompson

If all this sounds familiar, it’s because the exact same vision animated Microsoft Windows 8, which puts a mobile and tablet-friendly interface alongside regular old Windows. But most people have found that fusion leads to unacceptable compromise.

Here’s the key difference for Google, if Chrome and Android merge: Google does not have to support a huge population of existing users of its desktop operating system. Chrome OS is only four years old, and it wasn’t until recently that cheap laptops pre-loaded with Chrome OS made it the least bit mainstream.

Microsoft’s strength is also its weakness: Millions of businesses have built applications on top of Windows that Microsoft must support with each successive version of Windows. Google’s primarily obligation, on the other hand, is to the hundreds of millions of people who already use Android, a lightweight, stable, constantly improving operating system that is already close to being capable of allowing users to do “real” work with it.

Unburdened by the need for backwards compatibility and empowered by all the lessons tallied so far by the PC industry, Google has the chance to create an operating system that spans all devices and is truly workable–not just a kludge like Windows 8.

ANDROID + CHROME = $$$

Eric Schmidt with Nexus 7 tablet

With Google selling hardware like its Nexus 7 tablet more or less at cost, the company remains dependent on advertising.AP/Ahn Young-joon

Currently, Google doesn’t charge a licensing fee to the companies, like Samsung, that make billions of dollars selling mobile devices that run Android. Google’s only way to make money from Android is through the Google Play store, where it sells apps, and so far the Play store is not a material portion of Google’s income.

But a fused Android and Chrome OS opens up a number of new potential revenue sources for Google. Foremost among them is simply charging for future Google services. While Gmail might always be free, Google is happy to charge users to store their data. As people move more and more of their lives to the cloud, Google could potentially lock them into life-long subscriptions to its data storage and other services.

Google is already accomplishing this at the enterprise level with the per-user subscriptions to a suite of Google apps.

THE AGE OF CLOUDS

Google’s move to fuse Chrome OS and Android is perfectly in line with its identity as an internet company. Chrome OS epitomizes Google’s view that no matter what device you pick up, simply logging in should present you with the same experience, no matter what. Google recognizes that what users want isn’t control but fluidity.

People want that moment in the movie Avatar, when a character swipes a document from a flat panel monitor onto his tablet computer, so he can carry it around with him as he walks. We live in an age in which, Google Docs and iCloud and Microsoft Office 365 notwithstanding, the dominant method for sharing data between computers, even computers owned by a single person, is still email. What we could have, instead, is a single unified digital life that is abstracted into the cloud. In this world, every device, no matter its size or capabilities, is simply as a window into our online workspace. A world in which all screens are created equal.

Google is trying to realize this vision, but so far its expression–force users into a Chrome OS in which everything is run through the browser–has felt limited. But these are the early days, and the company’s larger ambitions have yet to be realized. The only question is, will it be called Chandroid or Androme?

 

via Master Feed : The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/03/the-future-of-google-and-tech-phones-and-computers-are-converging/274003/

x-post by Jered Higgins

Once, people measured their leaders — and themselves — one clap at a time.

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The Dionysus Theater in Greece, from a German encyclopedia, 1891 (Wikimedia Commons)

And then, suddenly, just when the colors and outlines settle at last to their various duties — smiling, frivolous duties — some knob is touched and a torrent of sounds comes to life: voices speaking all together, a walnut cracked, the click of a nutcracker carelessly passed, thirty human hearts drowning mine with their regular beats; the sough and sigh of a thousand trees, the local concord of loud summer birds, and, beyond the river, behind the rhythmic trees, the confused and enthusiastic hullabaloo of bathing young villagers, like a background of wild applause.
Vladimir Nabokov

In the seventh century, as the Roman empire was in the decline period of its decline and fall, the emperor Heraclius made plans to meet with a barbarian king. Heraclius wanted to intimidate his opponent. But he knew that the Roman army, in its weakened state, was no longer terribly intimidating, particularly when the intended intimidatee was a barbarian. So the emperor hired a group of men to augment his legions — but for purposes that were less military than they were musical. He hired the men to applaud.

Heraclius’s tactic of intimidation-by-noisemaking, the audible version of a Potemkin Village, did nothing to stanch the wounds of a bleeding empire. But it made a fitting postscript to that empire’s long relationship with one of the earliest and most universal systems people have used to interact with each other: the clapping of hands. Applause, in the ancient world, was acclamation. But it was also communication. It was, in its way, power. It was a way for frail little humans to recreate, through hands made “thunderous,” the rumbles and smashes of nature. 

Applause, today, is much the same. In the studio, in the theater, in places where people become publics, we still smack our palms together to show our appreciation — to create, in cavernous spaces, connection. (“When we applaud a performer,” argues the sociobiologist Desmond Morris, “we are, in effect, patting him on the back from a distance.”) We applaud dutifully. We applaud politely. We applaud, in the best of circumstances, enthusiastically. We applaud, in the worst, ironically.

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We find ways, in short, to represent ourselves as crowds — through the very medium of our crowd-iness. 

But we’re reinventing applause, too, for a world where there are, technically, no hands. We clap for each others’ updates on Facebook. We share. We link. We retweet and reblog the good stuff to amplify the noise it makes. We friend and follow and plus-1 and plus-K and recommend and endorse and mention and (sometimes even, still) blogroll, understanding that bigger audiences — networked audiences — can be their own kind of thunderous reward. We find new ways to express our enthusiasms, to communicate our desires, to encode our emotions for transmission. Our methods are serendipitous and also driven, always, by the subtle dynamics of the crowd. We clap because we’re expected to. We clap because we’re compelled to. We clap because something is totally awesome. We clap because we’re generous and selfish and compliant and excitable and human.

This is the story of how people clapped when all they had, for the most part, was hands — of how we liked things before we Liked thingsApplause, participatory and observational at the same time, was an early form of mass media, connecting people to each other and to their leaders, instantly and visually and, of course, audibly. It was public sentiment analysis, revealing the affinities and desires of networked people. It was the qualified self giving way to the quantified crowd. 

It was big data before data got big.

‘This Is How You Gauge the People’

Scholars aren’t quite sure about the origins of applause. What they do know is that clapping is very old, and very common, and very tenacious — “a remarkably stable facet of human culture.” Babies do it, seemingly instinctually. The Bible makes many mentions of applause – as acclamation, and as celebration. (“And they proclaimed him king and anointed him, and they clapped their hands and said, ‘Long live the king!'”)

But clapping was formalized — in Western culture, at least — in the theater. “Plaudits” (the word comes from the Latin “to strike,” and also “to explode”) were the common way of ending a play. At the close of the performance, the chief actor would yell, “Valete et plaudite!” (“Goodbye and applause!”) — thus signaling to the audience, in the subtle manner preferred by centuries of thespians, that it was time to give praise. And thus turning himself into, ostensibly, one of the world’s first human applause signs.

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Roman mosaic of choregos and actors, from the House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii (Wikimedia Commons)

As theater and politics merged — particularly as the Roman Republic gave way to the Roman Empire — applause became a way for leaders to interact directly (and also, of course, completely indirectly) with their citizens. One of the chief methods politicians used to evaluate their standing with the people was by gauging the greetings they got when they entered the arena. (Cicero’s letters seem to take for granted the fact that “the feelings of the Roman people are best shown in the theater.”) Leaders became astute human applause-o-meters, reading the volume — and the speed, and the rhythm, and the length — of the crowd’s claps for clues about their political fortunes.

“You can almost think of this as an ancient poll,” says Greg Aldrete, a professor of history and humanistic studies at the University of Wisconsin, and the author of Gestures and Acclamations in Ancient Rome. “This is how you gauge the people. This is how you poll their feelings.” Before telephones allowed for Gallup-style surveys, before SMS allowed for real-time voting, before the Web allowed for “buy” buttons and cookies, Roman leaders were gathering data about people by listening to their applause. And they were, being humans and politicians at the same time, comparing their results to other people’s polls — to the applause inspired by their fellow performers. After an actor received more favorable plaudits than he did, the emperor Caligula (while clutching, it’s nice to imagine, his sword) remarked, “I wish that the Roman people had one neck.”

Caligula was neither the first nor the last politician to find himself on the business end of an opinion poll — just as Shakespeare was neither first nor last to see the world and its doings as an ongoing performance. In Rome, as in the republics that would attempt to replicate it, theater was politics, and vice versa. There, “even being a ruler is being an actor,” Aldrete points out. “And what he’s trying to gain is the approval of the audience.” The dying words of Augustus, the legend goes, were these: “If I’ve played my part well, then clap your hands, and dismiss me from the stage with applause.”

So savvy politicians of the ancient world relied on the same thing savvy politicians of the less-ancient often do: oppo research. Cicero, the ur-politico, would send friends of his to loiter around the theater, taking notes to see what kind of greeting each politician got when he entered the arena — the better to see who was beloved by the people, and who was not. And his human clap-o-meters had a lot of information to assess. “Ancient crowds tended to be more interactive than they are today,” Aldrete points out. “There was a lot of back and forth between speakers and crowds. And particularly in the Greco-Roman world, crowds — especially in cities — were really good at communicating messages through rhythmic clapping, sometimes coupled with shouts.” The coding was, he says, “a pretty sophisticated thing.”

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Tiles, Bricks, Beeeeeeeees!

By the late days of the Republic and the early days of the Empire — from around the first centuries BC to the first centuries AD — those systems of applause became more and more elaborate. As power consolidated under one person, passing from Caesar to Caesar to Caesar, plaudits became both more systematized and more nuanced. Applause no longer meant, simply, “claps.” While Greco-Roman audiences certainly smacked their palms together the same way we do today — the classics professor David Levene pointed me to Plautus’s play Casina, whose conclusion specifies applauding “with hands” — their overall strategies of applause were much more varied than clapping alone. Plaudits thundered, but they also buzzed. They also trilled. Crowds developed ways to express degrees of approval of the person or persons before them, ranging from claps, to snaps (of the finger and thumb), to waves (of the edge of the toga). The last gesture of which the emperor Aurelian decided would be replaced by the wave of a special handkerchief (orarium) — a prop which he then helpfully distributed to all Roman citizens, so they would never be without a way to praise him.

The applause rituals were influenced by Rome’s expansion, as well. Nero, for his part, amended Rome’s clapping style after a trip to Alexandria, where he found himself impressed by the Egyptian method of noise-making. The emperor, per the account of the historian Suetonius,

summoned more men from Alexandria. Not content with that, he selected some young men of the order of equites and more than five thousand sturdy young plebeians, to be divided into groups and learn the Alexandrian styles of applause … and to ply them vigorously whenever he sang. These men were noticeable for their thick hair and fine apparel; their left hands were bare and without rings, and the leaders were paid four hundred thousand sesterces each.

What Nero wanted to replicate was the Alexandrians’ varied style of noise-making, which texts of the time break down into three categories: “the bricks,” “the roof tiles,” and “the bees.” The first two varieties seem to refer to clapping as we know it today — “bricks” describing flat-palmed clapping, and “roof tiles” (taking their cue from the curved roof tiles common in Roman architecture) describing the cup-palmed version. The third type seems to refer to vocal rather than mechanical applause — to the humming or trilling that would make an assembled crowd sound like an enormous swarm of bees. (Or: BEEEEEEEES!)

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CBS/Infinitydish

The AMA, in the Roman Arena

So applause became, in its way, a political technology — a tool used by rulers and ruled alike to communicate with each other. This would not be specific, of course, to Rome. Or, for that matter, to the ancient world. In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn describes a district party conference attended by Josef Stalin. Attendees rose to greet the leader, leading to applause that lasted for ten minutes. Stalin’s reputation had, of course, preceded him — and nobody wanted to be the first to stop applauding for the dictator. Finally, the director of a paper factory sat down, allowing the rest of the crowd to follow suit. After the meeting ended, the director was arrested.

But Soviet-style dictatorship, from the dictator’s perspective, is always difficult to maintain — and that was especially so in an empire as widely distributed as Rome’s. One reason Roman leaders so systematically built amphitheaters and racetracks throughout the lands they conquered was to, on the one hand, foster a sense of “Romanness” among their subjects. But it was also, on the other, to offer a place where the public could become, publicly, “the governed.” The amphitheater was a place of conversion. “To be a legitimate emperor,” Aldrete says, “you have to appear in public and receive the applause of the people.” So the arenas were Rome’s early answer to the radio and the TV, the ancient incarnation of today’s Twitter Q&A and YouTube hangout and Reddit AMA: they allowed the powerful to interact with their constituents, en masse. They offered the illusion, if not the reality, of political freedom. And applause — medium and message at the same time — became the vehicle for the performance. Using it, people answered back to their leaders, with buzzes that mimicked bees and claps that mimicked thunder.

And the spectacle, in turn, ratified and then amplified Rome’s power. “When you get a crowd chanting ‘Hail, Caesar,'” Aldrete notes, “it makes someone Caesar.”

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Joe Biden applauds president Obama during the 2013 State of the Union. John Boehner does not. (Reuters)

‘See, I Told You It Was Funny!’

It’s no surprise, then, that the powerful began making a business of manipulating the crowds. Which are, for all their wisdom, notoriously manipulable. Rome and its theaters, Aldrete told me, saw the rise of a professional class of public instigators — laudiceni, or “dinner clappers” — hired to infiltrate crowds and manipulate their reaction to performances. The practice seems to have started with actors, who would hire a dozen or so shills to disperse among their audiences and prolong the applause they received — or, if they were feeling either especially bold or especially indignant, to start “spontaneous” chants of praise among the crowd. (Actors might also hire laudiceni to instigate boos and hisses following the performances of competitors.)

The practice spread to courts, where lawyers might hire professional rabble-rousers to react to arguments and thus sway juries. And it bled, as so many elements of theater eventually do, into politics. Nero, the legend goes, enlisted 5,000 of his soldiers to praise his performances when he acted. Centuries later, Milton Berle would ask Charles Douglass, founder of the laugh track, to edit in some post-facto guffaws to recordings of his comedy routines that had fallen flat. (Douglass would fulfill the request. “See, I told you it was funny!” the comedian would reply.) Romans, for their part, did the same kind of editing. They just had to content themselves with real-time manipulations.

So did, centuries later, French performers, who institutionalized shillery even further with the practice known as “the claque.” The 16th-century French poet Jean Daurat is generally credited with (or: blamed for) the resurrection. He bought a bunch of tickets to his own plays, handing them out to people who promised to applaud at the end of the performances. By the early 1820s, claques had become institutionalized, with an agency in Paris specializing in the distribution of the shills’ services. (In Urban Government and the Rise of the French City, the historian William B. Cohen describes the intricate price lists these faux flatterers would hand out to would-be patrons: polite clapping would cost this many francs, enthusiastic applause would cost this many, heckles directed at a competitor would cost this many.) 

The claque also became categorized: There were the rieurs (“laughers”), who would laugh loudly at the jokes; the pleureurs (“criers”), who’d feign tears in reaction to performances; the  commissaires (“officers”), who would learn a play or a piece of music by heart and then call attention to its best parts; the chatouilleurs (“ticklers”), who’d keep the audience in a good mood, in the manner of later drink minimums; and the bisseurs (“encore-ers”), who’d request encore performances — the first one having been, obviously, so delightful.

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Like Douglass’s 20th-century “Laff Box,” which allowed its operator to select among pre-recorded titters and teehees and guffaws, the claqueurs offered a range of reactions to perform for (and within) the Parisian crowds. Their practice spread — to Milan, to Vienna, to London, to New York — before falling out of fashion. The claque, like so many scams both before and after, lost its power once people became savvy to its tricks.

Slow Claps

And clapping itself evolved, too. Symphonies and operas became more serious, aligning themselves with the reverence and spirituality associated with religious ceremonies. With the advent of sound recording — of performances subject, as it were, to mechanical reproduction — they further quieted down. Knowing when to stay silent, as well as when to clap, became a mark of sophistication — a new kind of code for audiences to learn. Applause became a matter of “do” or “don’t,” “all” or “nothing,” “silence” or “elation” — losing many of its old shades and nuances. (Per a 1784 report in Carl Friederich Cramer’s Magazin der Musik, “It is not uncommon that after a perfect opera, [the Romans] remain in the theater for an hour or more in incessant clapping and rejoicing…. Sometimes also the composer of such an Opera is taken [in triumph] in this chair from the orchestra pit.”)

Those changes changed performers, too. Applause began to seem less a dialoge with an audience, and more a brute transaction with them. It promised and teased. “The point,” Gustav Mahler explained, “is not to take the world’s opinion as a guiding star but to go one’s way in life and working unerringly, neither depressed by failure nor seduced by applause.” The word “claptrap” (literally, “nonsense,” but more commonly, “showy language”) comes from the stage of the mid-18th century. And it refers to a “trick to ‘catch’ applause.”

So the subtleties of the Roman arena — the claps and the snaps and the shades of meaning — gave way, in later centuries, to applause that was standardized and institutionalized and, as a result, a little bit promiscuous. Laugh tracks guffawed with mechanized abandon. Applause became an expectation rather than a reward. And artists saw it for what it was becoming: ritual, rote. As Barbra Streisand, no stranger to public adoration, once complained: “What does it mean when people applaud? Should I give ’em money? Say thank you? Lift my dress?” The lack of applause, on the other hand — the unexpected thing, the relatively communicative thing — “that I can respond to.”

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But, now, we’re putting the nuances back. We’re finding new ways to reinvent applause, to make it what it used to be: a coded, collective form of communication. We’ve invented, of course, the slow clap — the thing the linguist John Haiman, in his book Talk Is Cheap: Sarcasm, Alienation, and the Evolution of Language, dutifully and delightfully describes as “a heavy monotonous, thoroughly controlled repetition of the clapping gesture.” We have delivered unto the world The Clapper, the device that lets human hands talk to electric light, and is therefore deserving of wonder and awe. We have created new ways to outsource our applause.

Mostly, though, we’ve used the affordances of the digital world to remake public praise. We link and like and share, our thumbs-ups and props washing like waves through our networks. Within the great arena of the Internet, we become part of the performance simply by participating in it, demonstrating our appreciation — and our approval — by amplifying, and extending, the show. And we are aware of ourselves, of the new role a new world gives us. We’re audience and actors at once. Our applause is, in a very real sense, part of the show. We are all, in our way, claqueurs. 

But our claps matter more, in many ways, because they are no longer ephemeral. They are preserved, their rhythms tracked, their patterns analyzed, even exploited. They send messages far beyond the fact of the applause itself. Our applause, when it’s given, is silent. And also thunderous.

via Master Feed : The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/03/a-brief-history-of-applause-the-big-data-of-the-ancient-world/274014/

x-post by Jered Higgins

Routine personal disclosure: many of my friends work at Google, as does one of my sons.

Routine general disclosure: the world has been transformed, overwhelmingly for the better, by the tools Google offers — most of them for free.*

With that out of the way: Google, how could you?

Feedly1.jpg1) The end of Google Reader. You can read all about it here at Wired, and at Bloomberg BW. In one sense this is “inevitable” and “understandable.” Use of Reader — essentially a very convenient way to amass, scan, screen, search, store, etc material coming in from RSS feeds — has been stagnant or falling. And by all reports there is a very convenient alternative: Feedly, with switchover instructions here and logo at right. I haven’t made the change but plan to. More alternatives listed here.

So in practical terms this is only minimally disruptive. The larger point is that, for better and worse, it’s part of the longer-term, triage-minded “more wood behind fewer arrows” strategy under co-founder and current CEO Larry Page. Back in days of yore, Google was sponsoring almost anything that would entice users to spend more time inside the larger Google ecosystem. It maintained the Google Labs site, itself also now defunct, as an overview of experimental new offerings. Here’s a list of projects and features that have gone the same way Google Reader is now headed.

The demise of Google Reader, if logical, is a reminder of how far we’ve come from the cuddly old “I’m Feeling Lucky” Google days, in which there was a foreseeably-astonishing delight in the way Google’s evolving design tricks anticipated what users would like. I still feel that way, in particular, about Google’s mapping, navigation, and foreign-language tools, and of course its mainstay search function. But as the company pares back its previous offerings, it is inevitably in the role of saying more and more often: You loved this feature? Tough! As Jim Aley puts it in BBW, about what the end of Reader means:

Serious RSS users aren’t into it for the luscious jpegged beauty. RSS feeds, taken straight, are a wall of text. That’s useful when you want to let news wash over you, to scan screenfuls of headlines without waiting for extraneous pictures to load. When I want to absorb a lot of information fast–which is to say, always–I don’t have time for Flipboard. I want exactly what Google will be taking away from me this summer.

GmailOffline.png2) The ‘new look’ of Offline Gmail. You’ve probably said to yourself: “You know, I’m sitting here at my laptop computer — or at my desktop, with its great big screen. But what I’d really like is a way to shrink the usable space of Gmail to what’s available when I’m using a mobile phone with a three-inch screen. Why have more, when I can have less?”

If that’s the way you think, the designers at Gmail have great news for you. They’ve found a way to dumb down “refresh” the UI for Offline Gmail (which lets you work with Gmail when not connected, for instance when on an airplane) so that what you see on a “real” computer looks more like your mobile phone. Courtesy of Google’s official announcement of the refreshed look of Gmail, at right, is the mobile device- version.

What does this mean when you apply it to a normal-scale screen? Here is a full-screen shot of my offline Gmail account just now. The point is not any of the specific messages, which are bulk mail and should be blurry in any case. The main point is the overall look and how much less useful information it gives you to work with. Again, these are all the messages I see on a 13″ MacBook Air screen. I can work in a few more messages if I hit Cmd-minus often enough to shrink the font, but still a small fraction of what used to be there.

Thumbnail image for ChromeOffline.png

The new look is “brighter,” airier, more colorful, and so on. It gives me a great big colorful initial letter for whoever is the addressee or sender of a message I’m reading — for instance, the big green ‘A’ above. Goody! I feel like I’m back in elementary school, using my Crayolas on big wide-lined composition paper.

On the positive side, I understand that the “refreshed” look offers more keyboard shortcuts. But as in the Reader case, what I want — more usable info — is exactly what the redesign has just taken away.

3) An actual Offline Gmail bug. The Offline settings allow you to choose how much mail you’d like to have synched to your local computer, so you can work on it or refer to it while offline. The maximum available is mail from the past month, and here is how the settings box looks after you make that choice:

GmailMonth.png

Here’s the bug: that time selection is for some reason not “sticky.” Sooner or later, it inevitably re-sets itself to the minimum setting, which is mail from the past week only. Time and again I’ve had the experience of setting the choice to “past month”; getting on a plane or train a few days later; opening up Offline Gmail; and seeing the screen below, showing the the program in fact only has mail from the past week:

GmailWeek.png

Sometimes it takes a few days for the setting to auto-fail from “past month” to “past week.” Sometimes, a week or more. But in my experience, sooner or later the change always occurs, and it never self-changes in the opposite way. In response, my “pre-trip checklist” now includes going into Offline Gmail the day before any long journey, changing the setting from “past week” to “past month,” and letting the program re-sync to collect as much info as it can.

OK, Offline Gmail people: with your great new UI “refresh” out of the way, maybe you have more time to deal with program fundamentals. Could you fix this bug please?

Thus endeth my “everything is amazing and no one is happy” rant for the day.
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* Of course I am aware of the cliche about any free service: If you’re not paying, you’re the product. Still, when I think of the panoply of Google products I use every day, I personally feel that I’ve come out far on the positive side on the bargain.

via Master Feed : The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/03/todays-google-how-could-you-round-up/274017/

x-post by Jered Higgins