Amid travels over the past month, here’s what’s been rolling by in front of my face.
Digital Death – A. David Lewis, one of the co-editors on this collection of essays, was kind enough to let me read through an advance copy a few weeks ago – and it really is an excellent piece of work. Its essays’ authors address a strong series of questions about how concepts of death have been altered by technology. These issues include how we memorialize loved ones, how we speak about death and how concepts within our daily lives and writing (especially online) may be evolving.
With Apple entering the smartwatch market soon and wearable tech pushing the Quantified Self movement into bigger, more mainstream places, a lot of what gets discussed in Digital Death challenges the reader to confront some ideas that are worth exploring. For instance, when you look back at the now Internet-famous story about a son racing his deceased father’s ghost in an Xbox game they used to enjoy playing, there’s a seed of something potentially a lot bigger going on. One of the essays in this book deals with where our data from social networks and other places goes when we die – and who should have the right to use it or own it when we do pass on.
The idea that we could soon be in a place technologically where people could preserve more complex digital ghosts of their loved ones and interact with them introduces all kinds of concerns and dilemmas. I mean, if a company like Google or Facebook has the data to render such a ghost, should it have to get legal permissions to do so? What does it do to the mourning process if such ghosts become crutches for bereaved people who don’t want to let go? (And who’s to say there’s any moral imperative or requirement that they should have to let go?)
Anyway, this is a great book, and I highly recommend checking it out.
Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World – This 2007 book by Margaret MacMillan was my companion for down time during the Iceland trip. I’m a sucker for Richard Nixon history – particularly when it involves vignettes like MacMillan dishes out. One of my favorites comes early on regarding an exchange between Nixon and Ford about Henry Kissinger:
“Henry is a genius,” Nixon told Gerald Ford as he was preparing to hand over the presidency, “but you don’t have to accept everything he recommends. He can be invaluable, and he’ll be very loyal but you can’t let him have a totally free hand.” He advised Ford to keep Kissinger on as his secretary of state but hoped, he told an aide, that the new president would be tough enough. “Ford has just got to realize that there are times when Henry has to be kicked in the nuts.”
Those moments of Nixonian candor alone are worth the price of admission for this book, but it’s also a trove of research and historical explanations that illuminate the world stage today – both with its explanation of Russo-Chinese relations and the culmination of events, factors and people that made Nixon’s trip to China possible.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – I’m two episodes deep into the second season and can’t get enough of this one. Parts of the first season dragged a bit, but I’m constantly impressed with how many story elements the show can keep spinning in the air at once. Also, Lucy Lawless and Patton Oswalt have been a huge gust of wind in its sails. I’m glad I hung on through the end of the first season and even happier that it came back with an Absorbing Man story that was better than any I’ve ever read in the comics.
Slack – I’ve been using Slack recently in place of email for a lot of work things, and I’m pretty sold on it so far. At face value it seems like standard reinvention of chat rooms and instant messaging, but I love it as a group communication tool. Totally beats massive email threads – hands down.