Anxiety Apps

I recently got an email from Dr. Anne Hallward, the host of a community radio show in Portland, Maine called Safe Space Radio, which has been airing a series about living with anxiety. She had run across my blog and wondered if I’d be interested in producing a radio piece reviewing apps designed for anxiety treatment.

I hadn’t made a radio story since 2009, when I left my job at American Public Media, but Dr. Hallward had caught me at exactly the right time. I’m actually in the process of producing my own podcast (more on that soon), and so I had all the equipment and software I needed to produce a piece for her.

The most surprising part of the experience was that I actually found an app I liked for anxiety management. But more than that, I just had a lot of fun making radio again, even on this somewhat serious topic, and I’m quite happy with how the final piece turned out. If you’re interested in anxiety, apps, or anxiety apps, you can listen to the piece, which closes the episode Angst, Introversion, and Apps.

Perils of Digital Intimacy

A somewhat terrifying (for a parent) piece by Hanna Rosen about the culture of sexting in Louisa County, Virginia, where police discovered an Instagram account with hundreds of nude photos of local teen girls:

Within an hour, the deputies realized just how common the sharing of nude pictures was at the school. “The boys kept telling us, ‘It’s nothing unusual. It happens all the time,’ ” Lowe recalls. Every time someone they were interviewing mentioned another kid who might have naked pictures on his or her phone, they had to call that kid in for an interview. After just a couple of days, the deputies had filled multiple evidence bins with phones, and they couldn’t see an end to it. Fears of a cabal got replaced by a more mundane concern: what to do with “hundreds of damned phones. I told the deputies, ‘We got to draw the line somewhere or we’re going to end up talking to every teenager in the damned county!’ ”

What I love is how Rosen goes way beyond the scandal to show that kids aren't being corrupted by technology as much as they are using technology to explore new avenues of intimacy. Of course there's a huge risk in sharing nude photos of yourself (especially if the state then charges you with distribution of child pornography), but there's a risk to any form of intimacy, sexual or otherwise. We assume the teenagers doing this simply aren't assessing that risk, but it's fascinating to hear them explain their own understanding of the tradeoffs.

Why do kids sext? One recent graduate told me that late at night, long after dinner and homework, her parents would watch TV and she would be in her room texting with her boyfriend. “You have a beautiful body,” he’d write. “Can I see it?” She knew it would be hard for him to ever really see it. She had a strict curfew and no driver’s license yet, and Louisa County is too spread out for kids to get anywhere on their own without a car.

“I live literally in the middle of nowhere,” the girl told me. “And this boy I dated lived like 30 minutes away. I didn’t have a car and my parents weren’t going to drop me off, so we didn’t have any alone time. Our only way of being alone was to do it over the phone. It was a way of kind of dating without getting in trouble. A way of being sexual without being sexual, you know? And it was his way of showing he liked me a lot and my way of saying I trusted him.”

The Impermanence of Software

Rian van der Merwe has some great thoughts, and choice quotes, on the implications of the idea that "software is never done":

I do wonder what would happen if we felt the weight of responsibility a little more when we’re designing software. What if we go into a project as if the design we come up with might not only be done at some point, but might be around for 100 years or more?

It's strange to consider that software may be among the most complex things human beings have ever created, while also being one of the most protean, unfixed, and ephemeral.

Clothing “Naked Capitalism" with Safety Nets

Great piece by Ben Thompson on Uber and why social safety nets and entrepreneurism should go hand in hand.

It’s not that Uber is bad for not hiring workers and giving them attendant benefits, it’s that said benefits shouldn’t be Uber’s – or any employer’s – responsibility at all. It’s employer-based health care that is the problem, and in ways that go beyond the economic benefits of universal health care (the most obvious of which is the broadest possible risk pool, not to mention unmatched buying power). It’s that people are afraid to leave or lose their jobs because they lack the most basic of safety nets.

Free marketeers and proponents of universal healthcare tend not to be on the same side of the political divide, but they should be. You're unlikely to reap the benefits of free markets if most people are too afraid to be free.

Sustaining Optimism

In regards to my piece about Apple Keynotes yesterday, Matt Haughy wrote a similar piece back in 2007 about how he saw Apple taking over the role NASA had once played, by sustaining his optimism in the future:

When I was a kid, the future was filled with optimism. The year 2000 was 10-20 years away and it was this magical goal we were working towards. I was obsessed with astronauts, especially those in NASA that got to ride in the space shuttle. While I never made it to spacecamp, I envied the kids that did.

Then the shuttle blew up, the year 2000 passed without flying cars, and 9/11 sparked another world war. Leaders talked about the past, not the future. Optimism was dead.

How Apple's Keynotes Sell Us the Future

On the morning of the latest Apple Keynote, announcing new iPhone models and a new Apple watch, I made a joke to my wife: "Are you as excited about today as I am?" She wasn't, of course. She couldn't care less. And I was being somewhat ironic about my own excitement. If anything, I felt a mild shame about my excitement, as if admitting to it implicated me both as a nerd and as a consumerist zombie, brainwashed into lusting after each new technological gadget Apple releases.

But I was excited. And I wasn't alone. Several of my students, at the college where I teach writing, told me they were excited too. One of them started watching the keynote on her phone as soon as class was done. I stayed after class, helping other students, and the student with her phone began to narrate to us what she was hearing from the keynote. "There's two new phones! The iPhone 6 and the 6+! They're beautiful! They're gonna be amazing!" Across town, my wife was having a similar experience at the middle school where she teaches, students walking up to each other in the hallway asking, "Did you hear about the new iPhones? They just announced new iPhones!"

After class, I rushed down to my office to catch the second half of the keynote while I ate lunch. I learned a little more about the two new phone models, Apple's new payment service Apple Pay, and of course the new Apple Watch. I didn't have an afternoon class, so when the keynote was done, I packed up my bag and walked out to my car.

I felt giddy with excitement at everything I'd learned, but I still couldn't shake an instinctive skepticism at that excitement. Wasn't it a bit weird to be watching a company's announcement of new products with bated breath? I am a grownup, yet these keynotes put me in the position a child on Christmas morning, mad with anticipation at the unwrapping of presents.

Apple has been making these kinds of product announcements since the introduction of the Macintosh, but I don't think they became cultural phenomenons until the announcement of the original iPhone. That was the first keynote I ever watched, and I've watched nearly every one since. But why? Steve Jobs was a great showman, of course, and it was a delight to watch him work, but I continue to enjoy the unveiling of new products without him. Is it merely my Apple fanboy-ism that keeps me coming back for more? Or is there something unique about the way Apple makes theater out of their products?

Getting into my car, I pulled out my 2 year old iPhone 5, which now looked excessively old and scuffed around the edges, ready for replacement. My podcast app had automatically downloaded a new episode of Radiolab, which concerned a book called In the Dust of This Planet, "an academic treatise about the horror humanity feels as we realize that we are nothing but a speck in the universe."

Radiolab's host, Jad Abumrad, was exploring the idea of nihilism and whether it is beginning to permeate modern culture. At one point, he tied the modern allure of nihilism to the growing fear of threats like terrorism, ebola, and especially global warming, which increasingly feels like an inevitable, looming tsunami of environmental disasters we're powerless to stop. Abumrad mentioned a survey that asked whether people felt the future would be better than the past, and more than 70 percent of respondents said no. They believed the future would be worse.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that one of the things Apple is selling in its keynotes (and part of what makes those keynotes so compelling) is its vision of the future. Where else in the world can we look and say that things are definitively getting better? We have an African American president, but we also have Ferguson. We've ended the war in Iraq, except Iraq is falling apart. There's a few isolated pockets of progress here and there, maybe. But one of the few places of clear progress is technology, and Apple is at the forefront of selling us on the betterness of that technology: the endless progress toward thinner, lighter, more beautiful and more powerful devices.

A vision of that progress can be incredibly comforting. Indeed, Apple's products have been a comfort to me at some of the darkest moments of my life.

I remember in the fall of 2008, as the economy was crashing, I was in the midst of my first real experience of depression. Every night, I woke up around 3 am in a panic. I worried about my job, whether I was making too many mistakes, whether I would forget something, whether I had already forgotten something. I worried about what would happen if I got laid off, or worse yet, fired. I worried what our friends would think if they heard I'd been fired. I worried what my wife would think. I worried about finding a new job in the midst of the economic crisis.

In the middle of all this, I had to plan my family's Thanksgiving trip, a long drive from Saint Paul, Minnesota to Lafayette, Indiana. The week before the trip, our son broke out in hives. Then the laundry machine broke. When I opened the pump, there was so much water that it spilled over onto the floor, and I had to get two towels to wipe it up. I ran the drain cycle again, and listened as the pump made a rattling sound, like a lost tooth was caught inside it. The next day, I noticed my car's brakes were squeaking. Fearing some sort of Biblical curse, I called the nearby Tires Plus to have the brakes checked before our drive. I had to take my kids with me to drop the car off, because my wife wasn't home from work yet. The kids and I walked home in the first real snow shower of the season.

When we got back to the house, I realized that I had left all my keys at the Tires Plus, so my children and I were locked out of the house. The sun was setting, it was thirty degrees and snowing, and I felt utterly defeated. To entertain my children while we waited for my wife to get home, I dug into my pocket and pulled out a small rectangular device. For the next fifteen minutes, as the sky darkened and the snowflakes fell, my children's faces were lit by the glow of a scene from Disney's Fantasia, a vision of fairies dancing to the Nutcracker Suite, playing as if by magic in the palm of my hand.

It's one of the few memories I have of that autumn in color. Everything else in my life felt broken, but this iPhone, the original iPhone, was still amazing.

I'm not so cynical as to believe these devices are merely a distraction from the horrors of the real world. But I think it's worth considering what we're longing for when we watch these keynotes. We want a future where the incredible technological advances of human civilization have made the world a better place. I believe these devices have the power to help us do that. But they also have the power to distract us. I hope we can channel our longing for a better world, so that our vision of the future doesn't remain confined to devices, but actually exists outside those devices as well.

Against Stranger Danger

According to this piece in the New York Times, talking to strangers is good for you, partly because you tend to act happier around strangers than you might feel.

When one of us, Liz, was in graduate school, she noticed that her boyfriend, Benjamin, felt free to act grumpy around her. But if he was forced to interact with a stranger or acquaintance, he would perk right up. Then his own pleasant behavior would often erase his bad mood.

One of the perks of being a behavioral scientist is that when your partner does something annoying, you can bring dozens of couples into the laboratory and get to the bottom of it. When Liz tested her hypothesis in a lab experiment, she discovered that most people showed the “Benjamin Effect”: They acted more cheerful around someone they had just met than around their own romantic partner, leaving them happier than they expected.

The Fine Line Between Digital and Public

In the wake of the recent theft (not leak, but theft) of photos of female celebrities, I keep thinking about how the persistence of digital information makes this sort of theft possible. The crime committed is just as shameful as (or even more shameful than) a peeping tom peering in through a bedroom window, but the digital nature of the crime magnifies the effect at both ends, multiplying both the number of bedroom windows and the number of peeping tom eyes.

Nearly 80 years ago, Walter Benjamin wrote in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction":

In even the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art-its unique existence in a particular place. It is this unique existence-and nothing else-that bears the mark of the history to which the work has been subject.

The problem with digital information, like the photos in this case, is that they lack the here and now of the human to which they're attached, the unique humanity of a particular person. This is privacy in the age of digitial reproduction.

I'm reminded of something I wrote a few months back, in the wake of revelations about NSA spying, on the unforeseen stickiness of the web:

In those early days, the internet felt like an ocean made for skinny-dipping; instead of doffing your clothes, you doffed your identity. You could read about, look at, discuss, and eventually purchase just about anything that interested you, without fear of anyone looking at you funny. This lack of identity could be used for nefarious purposes, of course, and it could lead people down any number of self-destructive paths. But for many, it was liberating to find that, on the web, you could explore your true nature and find fellow travelers without shame.

But as paranoia grows about the NSA reading our emails and Google tapping into our home thermostats, it’s increasingly clear that — rather than providing an identity-free playground — the web can just as easily capture and preserve aspects of our identities we would have preferred to keep hidden. What started as a metaphor to describe the complexly interconnected network has come to suggest a spider’s sticky trap.

It's especially depressing, though not surprising, that women in particular are the targets of this crime, since women historically have been afforded so much less privacy than men. It should go without saying that searching for or looking at these pictures makes you part of the problem.

Clickbait and the Nature of Suspense

On Wednesday, posted a story that purported to give a definitive answer to what really happened at the infamous ending of The Sopranos. The tweet that announced the story attracted the attention of the Twitter account @SavedYouAClick, which takes great pleasure in spoiling clickbaity headlines. Nataurally, @SavedYouAClick tweeted the answer to the headline's question: "Did Tony die at the end of The Sopranos?"

Nilay Patel wrote a furious response in The Verge.

Because the headline was phrased in the form of a question — the question of the entire series — Jake Beckman, who runs the Twitter account @savedyouaclick, decided that it wasn't worth it. He "saved you a click" and tweeted the reveal.

This is bullshit.

It is bullshit because he didn't save anyone a click at all — he stole an experience. That story is great. It is absolutely worth the click.

The first response I read to Patel's rant was Nick Herr's at Pixel Envy:

If the article is so dependent on the teaser headline that a single tweet can bust the whole thing up, then Beckman did save people a click.

This was echoed by Jake Beckmann himself, who told the New York Observer,

I’m one person with a Twitter account...If I can disrupt your content distribution strategy from my iPhone, then maybe something is wrong with your content distribution strategy.”

The whole controversy reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock's old adage about the nature of suspense. Lesser storytellers often assume that suspense comes from a lack of knowledge. And it's true that a lack of knowledge can lead an audience forward. It's a lack of knowledge that lies at the heart of every cheap cliffhanger ending and the plot developments of TV shows like Lost. But lack of knowledge is ultimately a distraction, because instead of human drama, the audience becomes obsessed with information, and once the audience gets that information, they usually find it unsatisfying. Because information is, in the end, not dramatic.

Hitchcock said the secret of real suspense is giving the audience more knowledge. Show the audience that there's a bomb under the table that none of the characters can see. Then let the audience watch in horror as the characters go blindly about their business, with no idea they're about to be killed. Rather than trying to solve some ultimately pointless mystery, the audience now feels deeply invested in the heart of the story: these characters.

The problem with clickbaity headlines is not that they're a cheap method of enticing the reader. The problem is that, by using a lack of information as the enticement, they distract the reader from what might be truly valuable.

I clicked on the link to find out what really happened to Tony Soprano, and I was so enticed by the headline that all I did was skim the article for the answer. Once I found it, I felt completely unsatisfied, and didn't even finish reading. If Patel is right and the article is a brilliant analysis of the legacy of the Sopranos, that experience was ruined for me.

By the headline.

Socially Unproductive Attachments

A fascinating but creepy piece by Julie Beck in the Atlantic on the growing sex doll industry:

In her Ph.D. dissertation, [Cynthia Ann] Moya questions why there is something uniquely perverse about owning a sex doll. As she puts it, “A better spatula does not inspire lengthy monologues about human alienation and the reifying effects of technological mechanization on our lifestyles.” Sexuality is an appetite, not unlike hunger, but we treat the devices used to satisfy that appetite differently. If the doll owners aren’t hurting anyone, why should we condemn something that is basically just fancy masturbation?

But sex dolls do retain something of an ick-factor, even as vibrators and other sex toys have become more mainstream. That’s because the dolls are tied up with questions about gender and power in a way that spatulas (and even vibrators) are not.

According to [Dr. Marquard] Smith, any sort of non-reproductive sexual behavior has historically been seen as perverse. These days, though, many people are okay with sex that isn’t reproductive. We’re less okay with emotional attachments that aren’t socially productive.

The Power of a Camera

In light of the fiasco in Ferguson, Derek Thompson has written a piece for the Atlantic online about a small technological tool that could dramatically improve the relationship between police and the policed:

In 2012, Rialto, a small city in California's San Bernardino County, outfitted its police officers with small Body Cams to be worn at all times and record all working hours. The $900 cameras weighed 108 grams and were small enough to fit on each officer's collar or sunglasses. They recorded full-color video for up to 12 hours, which was automatically uploaded at the end of each shift, where it could be held and analyzed in a central database. 

When researchers studied the effect of cameras on police behavior, the conclusions were striking. Within a year, the number of complaints filed against police officers in Rialto fell by 88 percent and "use of force" fell by 59 percent. “When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better,” Chief William A. Farrar, the Rialto police chief, told the New York Times. “And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better.”

Two Kinds of Memory

Annie Murphy Paul writing for Slate on the difference between electronic and organic memory and the evolving uses of each in fields like healthcare:

The second insight that emerges from a close look at electronic and organic memory is that E-memory is good for invariant storage, while O-memory is good for elaborated connections. If we make note of an upcoming appointment in our smartphone, its digital calendar won’t misremember the date or time, as our all-too-fallible brains are apt to do. On the other hand, if we enter the germ of an idea in our phone’s note-taking app, we won’t return after a busy weekend or a good night’s sleep to find that the idea has grown new connections and layers of meaning, as an idea planted in our organic memory is likely to do.

This explains why I find apps like Fantastical and Due to be so essential in aiding my leaky memory, but whenever I capture an idea in an app like Evernote, I rarely think about that idea again. The act of capturing gives me an excuse to forget. Perhaps someone should create a note-taking app (if it doesn't already exist) specifically designed for capturing ideas, which then periodically reminds you to think about those ideas.

The Best RSS App for the iPad

I wrote a review of iPad RSS Apps for the The Sweet Setup. My favorite was Unread, because it's the best app for simply reading your feeds, rather than endlessly processing them, but they each have great features.

In the course of the review, I also decided to make another design comparison video, showing the different features of the three big players in the RSS app space on the iPad: Reeder, Mr. Reader, and Unread.

Some Measure of Innocence

In a piece for the New York Times Magazine, Mark O'Connell writes beautifully about how having children can give you a whole new perspective on the world and its dangers:

Having a child feels like returning some measure of innocence to the world, and this is wonderful in its way; but we are talking here about a world with an exceptionally poor track record in its dealings with innocence. Unforgivably, perhaps, I think of this much more frequently now than I ever did before deciding to bring a child — this particular child — into the world.

Reading this piece, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my best friend from high school not long after my second child was born. My friend did not have kids yet, and wasn't even in a serious relationship, so I was trying to explain to him how it felt, and I remember saying that it's like you've had this clock running your whole life, counting down the days until the next thing happens and then the next thing, the years of school, getting a driver's license, going to college, getting a job, getting married, and so on. And all the while, you're imagining your future.

But when you have a child, suddenly you start a new clock, and you begin to re-experience and re-anticipate all those same experiences. And the worst part of it is that you begin to imagine this new future, not your future but your child's future, and all the precarious possibilities that future could bring that your child doesn't even know about yet, from war to pandemics to global warming.

O'Connell's essay also reminded me of something the writer George Saunders once said in a radio interview (which I've been unable to track down). He was talking about the day one of his children was born, probably his first, and he remembered looking down at this infinitely innocent, infinitely helpless being in his hands and thinking about how all human beings on this planet were once that innocent and that helpless, and maybe if people could remember that, remember the innocence and helplessness we're all born with, the world wouldn't be such a cruel place.

No Permission Necessary

Love this bit from Kevin Kelly's piece You Are Not Late:

Right now, today, in 2014 is the best time to start something on the internet. There has never been a better time in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside, than now.

(via Shawn Blanc)

Kelly's main point is that the future of the internet still holds many surprises and innovations to come, but really, his statement would be true at any point in time. It reminds me of what Ira Glass said at the end of his recent Lifehacker interview:

Don't wait for permission to make something that's interesting or amusing to you. Just do it now. Don't wait.

And Glass's advice further echos the advice of Radiolab co-host Robert Krulwich, who said in a commencement address years ago:

Suppose, instead of waiting for a job offer from the New Yorker, suppose next month, you go to your living room, sit down, and just do what you love to do. If you write, you write. You write a blog. If you shoot, find a friend, someone you know and like, and the two of you write a script. You make something. No one will pay you. No one will care. No one will notice, except of course you and the people you’re doing it with. But then you publish, you put it on line, which these days is totally doable, and then… you do it again.

I wrote about this a while back in a blog post about the future of blogging.

I had [Krulwich's] words in mind when I started my blog six months ago, and I’ve had them in mind whenever I think I should be pitching one of my blog posts to an online publication like Slate or Salon or The Magazine. I’d like to get paid for what I write, but there’s something wonderfully satisfying about owning and controlling my own work. I also don’t want to wait to see if someone will publish it. I want to publish, and see if the audience comes to me.

The remarkable thing about the internet is that you don't have to wait, you don't need anyone's permission to put your creative work out in the world, you can just do it.

So do it.

The Price of Great Software

Everybody's writing about and linking to Jared Sinclair's blog post where he breaks down the sales figures of his RSS reader Unread, calculating that "the actual take-home pay from the combined sales of both apps is $21,000, or $1,750/month."

Considering the enormous amount of effort I have put into these apps over the past year, that’s a depressing figure. I try not to think about the salary I could earn if I worked for another company, with my skills and qualifications. It’s also a solid piece of evidence that shows that paid-up-front app sales are not a sustainable way to make money on the App Store.

Most of the commentary so far seems to be pretty pessimistic about what this means for the future of iOS app development. Either it's nearly impossible to make good money designing apps, or you just have to design apps that take less work to design. As Benjamin Mayo puts it:

If you want to maximize your profitability, make small apps that do a few things well. The amount of effort you put into an app has very little to do with how much of the market will buy it. This means that making big apps exposes you to substantially more risk, which is not fairly counterbalanced by significantly higher earnings potential.

Marco Arment thinks the way forward is being more efficient:

As the economics get tighter, it becomes much harder to support the lavish treatment that developers have given apps in the past, such as full-time staffs, offices, pixel-perfect custom designs of every screen, frequent free updates, and completely different iPhone and iPad interfaces...Efficiency is key. And efficiency means doing more (or all) of the work yourself, writing a lot less custom code and UI, dropping support for older OSes, and providing less customer support.

But there's another option: simply charge more if your app is worth it, and charge for every major update. On a recent episode of Iterate, Joe Cieplinski of Bombing Brain describes how his company developed the premier teleprompter app for the iPad, and how it not only sold well at a relatively high price but went on to sell even better when they raised the price higher. People have been saying similar things about the Omnigroup's pricing for years.

Brent Simmons recently made the case that most indie software developers in the Apple ecosystem make apps for the Mac. The implication is that Mac apps make more money, because developers typically charge more for them. Tyler Hall backs up this point from his own experience:

It’s my experience that you CAN build a sustainable software business selling to consumers as an independent developer. You just can’t do it in the App Store any longer – if you ever could. You need to start building for the Mac, where you can charge a fair price, sell directly to your customers, and charge for upgrades. Even then, success won’t happen overnight. But it is doable.

Of course, I'm just a user, not a developer, so this is all just speculation. But when I look at that sales chart for Unread, and see that huge spike in the first few days, I see myself and other people like me, people who love these beautifully designed, "hand-crafted" apps.

ufy-iphone-regular-graph 2.png

We aren't buying these apps on impulse. We're buying them because we read the reviews and we know what the best apps are, and we want to own the best. Maybe indie devs need to stop chasing the normals (who think everything should be free anyway) and just charge a fair price from the folks who care.

Why Teaching Innovations Don’t Spread in the US

I was initially turned off by the shame-inducing headline of this article by Elizabeth Green in the New York Times, Why Do Americans Stink at Math? But the answer to her question is actually surprising. The innovations in math education that have spread around the world, and that have shown remarkable success, actually started here in the United States. So why have those innovations failed to spread here? Because we choose not to invest in the professional development of our teachers.

In Finland and Japan, where students perform at or near the top in math assessments, teachers spend only about 600 hours a week in the classroom, using the rest of their time to prepare lessons, observe other teachers, and receive feedback on their own teaching. American teachers, by contrast, spend more than 1000 hours a year in the classroom, and have traditionally received almost no feedback from fellow teachers (though this is starting to change).

My wife taught middle school and high school for about ten years, and I have taught at the college level for the last five, and I'm consistently frustrated with the carrots and sticks approach to improving our country's schools, as if bribing teachers with merit pay or threatening them with firing are the best ways to motivate them. In fact, most teachers I know are always striving to do better, even if they're already amazing teachers. What they need is the time and the support to actually improve their skills.

As Green writes:

Most policies aimed at improving teaching conceive of the job not as a craft that needs to be taught but as a natural-born talent that teachers either decide to muster or don’t possess. Instead of acknowledging that changes like the new math are something teachers must learn over time, we mandate them as “standards” that teachers are expected to simply “adopt.” We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that their students don’t improve.

(Via @stevenstrogatz)

The Staggering Scale of Minecraft

Five years in, Minecraft (the system) has bloomed into something bigger and more beautiful than any game studio — whether a tiny one like Markus Persson’s or a huge one like EA — could ever produce on its own. The scale of it is staggering; overwhelming. As you explore the extended Minecraft-verse online, you start to get the same oceanic feeling that huge internet systems like YouTube and Twitter often inspire: the mingling of despair (“I’ll never see it all”) with delight (“People made this”) with dizzying anthropic awe (“So… many… people.”)

What impressed me about Minecraft, from the moment I first saw my children playing it, was how its open-ended structure could result in such wildly different forms of play.

The first thing my son showed me was the complex, working roller coaster he'd constructed inside the game, which we could ride in a mining cart. Then my daughter invited me to see the house she'd built. She maneuvered the POV inside the door, and suddenly, dozens of eyes turned and looked at us from every direction. “These are my cats!” she announced. She'd stuffed her house to the brim with these pixilated creatures.

In other words, the same game served as both my son's virtual erector set and as a virtual extension of my daughter's growing stuffed animal collection. And that was within the first week of them playing it.

(Via DF)