Kind of familiar, the way memes went viral in the 19th century

Friday, 15 November, 2013

Aside from word of mouth, newspapers were about the only way stories, ideas, and I imagine photos also, were able to go viral, or reach mass audiences during the nineteenth century, but the process behind the way many of these stories were put in front of people of the day has a certain ring of familiarity to it:

The tech may have been less sophisticated, but some barriers to virality were low in the 1800s. Before modern copyright laws there were no legal or even cultural barriers to borrowing content, Cordell says. Newspapers borrowed freely. Large papers often had an “exchange editor” whose job it was to read through other papers and clip out interesting pieces. “They were sort of like BuzzFeed employees,” Cordell said.

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The best solution to a problem is often reached by way of the worst

Wednesday, 8 May, 2013

Ever notice how when you’re out with a group of people, who are trying to choose somewhere to eat, that no one seems able to make a suggestion? Yes, it’s sure frustrating, but a little reverse psychology may be the solution, advance a bad idea, say dining at a certain fast food restaurant, and that might see other ideas come forward:

I use a trick with co-workers when we’re trying to decide where to eat for lunch and no one has any ideas. I recommend McDonald’s. An interesting thing happens. Everyone unanimously agrees that we can’t possibly go to McDonald’s, and better lunch suggestions emerge. Magic!

The idea need not be limited to selecting places to eat, but any situation where a problem needs to be solved… put out a bad idea to open proceedings, and hopefully better alternatives will manifest themselves. Then later on, to save face, tell the group your “bad idea” was only a joke…

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Efficient problem solving usually kills two birds with one stone

Wednesday, 30 May, 2012

Those so-called “eureka moments”, where we suddenly envisage a solution to a difficult or long-standing problem, often come to us when we’re giving said concern no thought whatsoever, and often while we’re in a relaxed, or zoned out state of mind. So the key to problem solving then is to do nothing at all more regularly? No, not entirely.

Answers to the concerns we’ve been chewing over for a while are more likely to present themselves while we’re engaged in some undemanding, even menial, activity. Things like housework or gardening perhaps. Looked at that way, problem solving isn’t just an essential process, but one that can also be quite productive.

From an evolutionary perspective, mind-wandering seems totally counterproductive and has been viewed as dysfunctional because it compromises people’s performance in physical activities. However, Baird’s work shows that allowing the brain to enter this state when it is considering complex problems can have real benefits. Zoning out may have aided humans when survival depended on creative solutions. “There is a real possibility that mind-wandering is so common because evolution has selected for it over time, but before we can come to that conclusion we have to ascertain whether it’s genetically determined,” says Kounios.

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Brainstorming together alone, a better way to spawn quality ideas

Thursday, 23 February, 2012

Likeminded individuals who are working in relatively close proximity to each other are more likely to devise better solutions to problems, in the course of their random interactions over a period of time, than are a group of people who are forcefully brought together – in say a meeting situation – to brainstorm.

The fatal misconception behind brainstorming is that there is a particular script we should all follow in group interactions. The lesson of Building 20 is that when the composition of the group is right – enough people with different perspectives running into one another in unpredictable ways – the group dynamic will take care of itself. All these errant discussions add up. In fact, they may even be the most essential part of the creative process. Although such conversations will occasionally be unpleasant – not everyone is always in the mood for small talk or criticism – that doesn’t mean that they can be avoided. The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together. It is the human friction that makes the sparks.

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Once copyright used to enhance creativity not stamp it out

Monday, 20 February, 2012

The fourth and final instalment of Kirby Ferguson’s excellent “Everything is a Remix” series of videos examines the original intent of copyright and patent laws.

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I think someone invented a time machine but didn’t tell anyone

Friday, 20 January, 2012

112 years ago a US civil engineer John Elfreth Watkins foresaw the advent of a number of technologies including mobile phones and, in a way, foreshadowed the internet when he predicted photos would be shared electronically, or by telegraph… an impressive call considering telephone technology was then in its infancy.

Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence, snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspapers an hour later…. photographs will reproduce all of nature’s colours.

Not to be out-done by Watkins, readers of the BBC News Magazine had a shot at predicting what the world will be like in one hundred years time, and foresee synthetic telepathy, a single global currency (whether it’s a good idea or not), and the ability to control the weather, among other things.

Futurologists Ian Pearson and Patrick Tucker assessed their crystal gazing, and thought a number of their ideas may not be all that far off the mark.

There is already some weather control technology for mediating tornadoes, making it rain and so on, and thanks to climate change concerns, a huge amount of knowledge is being gleaned on how weather works. We will probably have technology to be able to control weather when we need to. It won’t necessarily be cheap enough to use routinely and is more likely to be used to avoid severe damage in key areas.

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If ideas are boring, and worse don’t pay, how can they be ideas?

Friday, 19 August, 2011

Has information narcissism, an interest in only our own thoughts, and the actions of those close to us, put paid to the big thinkers – Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Gore Vidal, and Betty Friedan, for instance – and their big, real, and actual ideas?

If our ideas seem smaller nowadays, it’s not because we are dumber than our forebears but because we just don’t care as much about ideas as they did. In effect, we are living in an increasingly post-idea world – a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding. Bold ideas are almost passé.

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Learn to crave boredom, which as it happens, isn’t all that boring

Tuesday, 16 August, 2011

Smartphones and tablet devices have all but eliminated boredom… as long as you’re within range of a base-station you need never be without the reassuring stimulation that comes by way of social networks and the internet. All of this constant, boredom destroying, invigoration may not however be doing our creativity much good.

Experts say our brains need boredom so we can process thoughts and be creative. I think they’re right. I’ve noticed that my best ideas always bubble up when the outside world fails in its primary job of frightening, wounding or entertaining me. I make my living being creative and have always assumed that my potential was inherited from my parents. But for allowing my creativity to flourish, I have to credit the soul-crushing boredom of my childhood.

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Belief by one person in ten will send an idea to tipping point

Thursday, 4 August, 2011

It has been suggested that an idea or concept will become favoured by the majority of people once ten percent of those within a group, or society, have accepted the notion.

An important aspect of the finding is that the percent of committed opinion holders required to shift majority opinion does not change significantly regardless of the type of network in which the opinion holders are working. In other words, the percentage of committed opinion holders required to influence a society remains at approximately 10 percent, regardless of how or where that opinion starts and spreads in the society.

There is certainly some debate surrounding this hypothesis though. If say 15 percent of people are of a particular point of view in an opinion poll, why then aren’t more? Might it be more correct to speculate that an idea only stands a chance of achieving critical mass once at least ten percent of people have embraced it?

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Creativity is not magic… it’s often a cleverly reworked copy

Tuesday, 28 June, 2011

Everyone starts out copying… the third part of the Everything is a Remix video series by Kirby Ferguson examining the roles that influence, and the earlier work of other people, plays in creativity.

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