Clive Thompson

What a 19th-century rebellion against automation can teach us about the coming war in the job market

Our friend and frequent Boing Boing contributor Clive Thompson has a piece in the January/February issue of Smithsonian magazine entitled "Rage Against the Machines." He explores the 19th century Luddite Revolution, the first rebellion against automation, comparing it to the upcoming robot workforce revolution.

I didn't know that pre-industrial textile workers were well-paid and had lots of free time. No wonder they fought so hard against textile automation!

At the turn of 1800, the textile industry in the United Kingdom was an economic juggernaut that employed the vast majority of workers in the North. Working from home, weavers produced stockings using frames, while cotton-spinners created yarn. “Croppers” would take large sheets of woven wool fabric and trim the rough surface off, making it smooth to the touch.

These workers had great control over when and how they worked—and plenty of leisure. “The year was chequered with holidays, wakes, and fairs; it was not one dull round of labor,” as the stocking-maker William Gardiner noted gaily at the time. Indeed, some “seldom worked more than three days a week.” Not only was the weekend a holiday, but they took Monday off too, celebrating it as a drunken “St. Monday.”

Croppers in particular were a force to be reckoned with. They were well-off—their pay was three times that of stocking-makers—and their work required them to pass heavy cropping tools across the wool, making them muscular, brawny men who were fiercely independent. In the textile world, the croppers were, as one observer noted at the time, “notoriously the least manageable of any persons employed.”

But in the first decade of the 1800s, the textile economy went into a tailspin.

Read the rest

The odd pleasures of reading Proust on a mobile phone

Author Clive Thompson once wrote an essay about the experience of reading War and Peace on his iPhone. On his blog, he writes about how Sarah Boxer read Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, all 1.2-million words.

From Boxer's essay:

Soon you will see that the smallness of your cellphone (my screen was about two by three inches) and the length of Proust’s sentences are not the shocking mismatch you might think. Your cellphone screen is like a tiny glass-bottomed boat moving slowly over a vast and glowing ocean of words in the night. There is no shore. There is nothing beyond the words in front of you. It’s a voyage for one in the nighttime. Pure romance.

In a curious way, I think reading Proust on your cellphone brings out the fathomless something in the novel that Shattuck calls “the most oceanic—and the least read” of 20th-century classics. It makes you feel like Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo in his submarine, which is just right.

Read the rest

Dice so nerdy, they make other dice seem not nerdy

Eric Harshbarger's weird, laser-engraved dice are a tour-de-force: a pair of D6s for figuring out where to go for dinner in NYC; another D6 to figure out which die you should roll; an all-20s critical hit D20; Sicherman D6s that have different faces to a normal D6 pair, but the same probability distribution; punctuation mark dice (I've had students who were definitely using these); dice for indecisive people, and so on. Read the rest

Second Life's Trump army lays siege to Bernie Sanders's virtual HQ with swastika cannons

Bernie Sanders's fans in the venerable virtual world Second Life have established a HQ, "a Roman-themed hangout space in a peaceful meadow, where Bernie supporters often gather to share news of their favorite candidate," but their peace was shattered when Second Life's Donald Trump supporters laid siege to the building, firing virtual guns whose rounds exploded into swastika flags at Sanders central. Read the rest

A look at digital habits of 13 year olds shows desire for privacy, face-to-face time

Sonia Livingstone, an LSE social psychology prof, gives us a peek into the results from The Class, a year-long, deep research project into the digital lives and habits of a class of 13 year olds at an ordinary school. Read the rest

Silicon Valley is raiding tech academia: “Uber would like to buy your Robotics Department”

Silicon Valley is raiding technology departments of universities around the U.S.—can tech academia survive?

"The Computer Girls," 1967 Cosmopolitan magazine article on women working with technology

Back then, the women themselves were sometimes called “computers.” They used these machines to compute.

Using hand-held cubes to organize Spotify

I love this prototype by Roy Martens: a set of Sifteo cubes that run Spotify, allowing you to trigger songs by moving the blocks around. Read the rest

I'm Clive Thompson, the next guestblogger

Hey folks! I'm Clive Thompson, and I'm a journalist who writes about the impact of technology and science on everyday life. I'm the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds For the Better, and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and Wired. I also blog at The Message on Medium, and play guitar and harmonica in the DeLorean Sisters.

I'm going to be guestblogging here for the next two weeks, which I'm really excited about because Boing Boing was one of the early blogs that inspired me to start my own, Collision Detection, back in 2002! Read the rest

The weirdly common co-occurrence of genius ideas

"Are you having a big, breakthrough idea right now? A few hundred people around the world are probably having the exact same insight at the exact same time," writes Clive Thompson, author of Smarter Than You Think, over at Medium. From his post:

This is what’s known as the principle of “multiples,” which posits that genius breakthroughs in innovation, science, and the arts aren’t rare at all. They’re quite common. And once you understand that, it can change the way you think about developing really big, interesting ideas....

Inventors’ ideas are influenced and midwifed by the state of technology around them, the conversational topics in society, and the maturity of other science and artisanship they’re building on. Since inventors are embedded in the same environment with each other — particularly if they’re in the same social and educational class — it increases the chance they’ll turn their minds to similar problems.

"Genius is More Common Than You Think" (Medium)

Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Amazon) Read the rest

How the photocopier changed the way we worked -- and played

In 1959 Xerox released the 914 photocopier. It weighed 648 pounds, but it was a huge improvement over previous document copying technologies, which used wet chemicals. Read the rest

How to spot mail written by a robot

Clive Thompson looks into the business of robot handwriting, which is increasingly being used by junk mail companies to trick recipients into thinking someone cares about them.

How to tell when a robot has written you a letter Read the rest

1974 young adult novel that forecasted the politics of drones

Over at Medium's The List, Clive Thompson argues that a 1974 science fiction novel for teens called Danny Dunn, Invisible Boy "nailed everything we’re arguing today about personal drones, privacy, and the danger of government overreach." I can't wait to read the book! Read the rest

Digital tools have a mind of their own: yours

Clive Thompson says that there are three principal biases that today's digital tools introduce to human thought.

Multiscreening is the new Multitasking

"Now that people have several devices at work—a laptop, a phone, a tablet—they’re finding their way to a similar trick, where they use each piece of hardware for a different purpose. Consider it a new way to manage all the digital demands on our attention: Instead of putting different tasks in different windows, people are starting to put them on different devices." Clive Thompson in this month's Wired Magazine on "How Working on Multiple Screens Can Actually Help You Focus." Read the rest

Clive Thompson -- guest on new Cool Tools podcast

Kevin Kelly and I launched a new podcast at Cool Tools. In this entertaining second installment of the Cool Tools podcast, Clive Thompson, author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better, discusses the problem with laptop calculators, a surprising use for uncommonly bad tools, and what we all can do to stop stock photos from ruining the internet… all while introducing us to some terrific cool tools. (Listen to episode 001 with guest David Pogue here.) Read the rest

Email considered harmful

Clive Thompson writes about the growing body of evidence about the negative impact of electronic messaging on workplace productivity. Not only has the smartphone extended the working week to something like 75 hours for the US workers in a recent survey, but some daring experiments suggest that when limits are put on electronic messaging (for example, a ban on out-of-hours emailing), that productivity and quality of work soars -- along with the happiness and quality of life of workers (these two phenomena are related). Some businesses have banned electronic messaging altogether, requiring workers to physically traverse their workplaces and exchange vibrating air molecules in order to coordinate their activities. Read the rest

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