Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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Technology Still Isn’t Ruining Anything

This is three years old, but I just ran across it and it’s just as relevant today as it was then. Apparently in response to Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows, Steven Pinker wrote a great op-ed about how technology isn’t really ruining all that stuff that technology is constantly claimed to be ruining. A snippet:

The effects of consuming electronic media are also likely to be far more limited than the panic implies. Media critics write as if the brain takes on the qualities of whatever it consumes, the informational equivalent of “you are what you eat.” As with primitive peoples who believe that eating fierce animals will make them fierce, they assume that watching quick cuts in rock videos turns your mental life into quick cuts or that reading bullet points and Twitter postings turns your thoughts into bullet points and Twitter postings.

I try to post stuff like this whenever I see it because these sorts of arguments (the one from Carr that media is ruining our brains) drive me totally insane. Pinker, it’s clear, is someone Adam Gopnik would call an ever-wasser: “The Ever-Wasers insist that at any moment in modernity something like this is going on, and that a new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others–that something like this is going on is exactly what makes it a modern moment.”

Also, while we’re on the topic, XKCD had a pretty awesome comic taking down those stricken with nostalgia for a techless world.

July 15, 2013 // This post is about: , , ,

How Well Did Sharknado Actually Do?

In case you were on Twitter a few nights ago, there was a show on SyFy called Sharknado. It was, as you might expect, about sharks getting caught in a tornado. If you judged it’s popularity by Twitter alone you would have thought the whole world was watching. That, however, turns out not to be the case:

But Sharknado may have broken the mold; the movie blew up on Twitter last night, giving the impression that everyone with a TV was watching it. “Omg omg OMG‪ #sharknado,” Mia Farrow tweeted last night, while Washington Post political reporter Chris Cillizza joked that he was writing an article about how Sharknado would affect the 2016 elections. But were all these people actually watching? According to the Los Angeles TimesSharknado was watched by only 1 million people, which makes it a bust, even by Syfy standards. Most Syfy originals have an average viewership of 1.5 million people, with some getting twice that.

[Via Washington Post]

July 14, 2013 // This post is about: , , , , ,

Constant Photography

Really interesting post on the changing nature of photography from Kottke. He pulls together a few different thoughts on photography and basically lands at the idea that we’re moving to a future of after-the-fact photography:

In order to get the jaw-dropping slow-motion footage of great white sharks jumping out of the ocean, the filmmakers for Planet Earth used a high-speed camera with continuous buffering…that is, the camera only kept a few seconds of video at a time and dumped the rest. When the shark jumped, the cameraman would push a button to save the buffer.

Makes me wonder where this new photography will land on the memory versus experience spectrum (an idea from Daniel Kahneman that we basically optimize our experiences for memory rather than experience, which is why we take photos instead of actually paying attention to what’s going on around us). I wonder if this doesn’t flip that notion.

July 11, 2013 // This post is about: , ,

Super Mario Brothers is Getting Harder

Huh, this is sort of interesting. Apparently Nintendo has been making games easier in part because it finds people can no longer beat the 1st level to the original Super Mario Brothers. From Nintendo President Satoru Iwata:

It may come as a shock to some of you that most gamers today can not finish the original Super Mario Brothers game on the Famicom. We have conducted this test over the past few years to see how difficult we should make our games and have found that the number of people unable to finish the first level is steadily increasing. This year, around 90 percent of the test participants were unable to complete the first level of Super Mario Brothers. We did not assist them in any way except by providing the exact same instruction manual we used back then. Many of them did not read it and the few that did stopped after the first page which did not cover any of the game mechanics.

UPDATE (7/7/13): As Rafi points out in the comments, it looks like this is satirical. One of the other stories on the site is CHILDREN WHO PICK A SIDE IN CONSOLE WARS ARE 90 PERCENT MORE LIKELY TO JOIN A GANG. Sorry about that.

July 4, 2013 // This post is about: , , ,

Being Part of the Story

Yesterday morning I laid in bed and watched Twitter fly by. It was somewhere around 7am and lots of crazy things had happened overnight in Boston between the police and the marathon bombers. I don’t remember exactly where things were in the series of events when I woke up, but while I was watching the still-on-the-loose suspect’s name was released for the first time. As reports started to come in and then, later, get confirmed, people on Twitter did the same thing as me: They started Googling.

As I watched the tiny facts we all uncovered start to turn up in the stream (he was a wrestler, he won a scholarship from the city of Cambridge, he had a link to a YouTube video) I was brought back to an idea I first came across in Bill Wasik’s excellent And Then There’s This. In the book he posits that as a culture we’ve become more obsessed with how a things spreads than the thing itself. He uses the success of Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point to help make the point:

Underlying the success of The Tipping Point and its literary progeny [Freakonomics] is, I would argue, the advent of a new and enthusiastically social-scientific way of engaging with culture. Call it the age of the the model: our meta-analyses of culture (tipping points, long tails, crossing chasms, ideaviruses) have come to seem more relevant and vital than the content of culture itself.

Everyone wanted to be involved in “the hunt,” whether it was on Twitter and Google for information about the suspected bomber, on the TV where reporters were literally chasing these guys around, or the police who were battling these two young men on a suburban street. Watching the new tweets pop up I got a sense that the content didn’t matter as much as the feeling of being involved, the thrill of the hunt if you will. As Wasik notes, we’ve entered an age where how things spread through culture is more interesting than the content itself.

To be clear, I’m not saying this is a good or a bad thing (I do my best to stay away from that sort of stuff), but it’s definitely a real thing and an integral part of how we all experience culture today. When I opened the newspaper this morning it was as much to see how much I knew and how closely I’d followed as it was to learn something new about the chase. After reading the cover story that recounted the previous day’s events I turned to Brian Stetler’s appropriately titled News Media and Social Media Become Part of a Real-Time Manhunt Drama.

April 20, 2013 // This post is about: , , ,