PopTech Blog

Dan Ariely on adaptation to pain, attraction and work

Dan Ariely just sent us one of his signature videos as an addendum to the concept of adaptation he’d introduced during his PopTech talk this past October. Ariely had spoken candidly about adaptation to pain from his own experience and how severe injuries increase one’s pain threshold. He also shared results from studies he conducted on social adaptation as it relates to assortative mating, or, to put it bluntly, figuring out who’s within someone’s league and who isn’t when it comes to meeting a significant other.

Adaptation comes in another form – professional adaptation. Ariely anecdotally explained that he made a number of small decisions, which led him on his current career path, including clumsily killing a slew of lab rats before he realized that his hands weren’t cut out for physiology. Adaptation is the process by which we maneuver around an environment to figure out what works best for us, he concluded.

If you’re a Dan Ariely fan like we are, why not consider checking out his SXSW panel on Tuesday, March 15 with Sarah Szalavitz, Flexible Morality of User Engagement & User Behavior, or participating in a 15 minute experiment in which the results will be showcased during the panel?

Steven Pinker on language as a window into human nature

In this video from RSAnimate, psychologist, cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker (PopTech 2007) explains how the mind turns the finite building blocks of language into infinite meanings.

Amidst the current tumult in the Middle East, his thoughts on facilitating political revolutions are particularly relevant.

Why are political revolutions often triggered when a crowd gathers in a public square to challenge the president in his palace? It’s because when people were at home, everyone knew they loathed the dictator but no one knew that other people knew that they knew. Once you assemble in a place where everyone can see everyone else, everyone knows that everyone else knows that everyone else knows that the dictator is loathed and that gives them the collective power to challenge the authority of the dictator who otherwise could pick off dissenters one at a time.

Wired for change: Internet access in the pursuit of justice

The Wired for Change event that took place this past Wednesday at the Ford Foundation was a jam-packed day filled with heavy hitters ranging from Bill Clinton, who made a surprise appearance to Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web as well as Arianna Huffington, John Maeda, and Damian Kulash amongst others. Coming on the heels of Hillary Clinton’s February 15 speech about Internet freedom, the conference’s focus was to engage in a dialogue about digital rights and the role of technology to facilitate innovation and positive change.

“Will technology’s arc bend toward justice?” Luis Ubinas, Ford Foundation’s President, asked to kick off the day. In a panel moderated by co-founder of BlackPlanet.com Omar Wasow, NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous, former ZipCar CEO Robin Chase, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Witness Executive Director Yvette Alberdingk Thijm responded, discussing access to broadband as a basic human right and a ripe opportunity to affect social change. How does access to the Internet funnel directly into innovation (crisis mapping and car sharing platforms) as well as activism (the role of social media in Egypt and Tunisia). The conversation also touched upon net neutrality and the digital divide in our own backyard.

Salient points were made by each panelist:

  • Tim Berners-Lee: “The Internet should be neutral” without policing from government or corporations. “I am generally optimistic about the Internet but whenever things get decentralized in any way, then you have a problem.”
  • Yvette Alberdingk Thijm: “Just providing the tools isn’t enough.” Access to technology is important for advocacy, but even more important is providing the skills people need to use the tools most effectively. People also need to be trained to use the tools safely so that they won’t implicate themselves or others.
  • Ben Jealous: We need to adopt platforms that are being used successfully outside the U.S., like Ushahidi, inside the U.S. “The Internet is the town square” and it’s all about who is in the square. Hopefully those in the square will bend technology’s arc toward justice.
  • Robin Chase: “After I fed and clothed a person, I’d give them the Internet…Innovators need free or low cost tools to show their cool new stuff.” With the technology she had available, Chase didn’t have to compete with GM or Ford when she started ZipCar.

This week in PopTech: Big stories, big news

Bantjes Valentines

There’s always something brewing in the PopTech community. From the world-changing people, projects and ideas in our network, a handful of this week’s highlights follows.

  • The unveiling of annual valentines from renowned typographer Marian Bantjes (PopTech 2008) is always a treat. This year is no exception.
  • Reihan Salam (PopTech 2009) has a new gig writing about politics at The Daily, a recently launched tablet-native national news brand published exclusively on the iPad.
  • Josh Nesbit (Social Innovation Fellow 2009) was featured as part of ABC News’ “Be the Change: Save a Life” initiative, a year-long series of broadcast and digital coverage focusing on global health issues. Nesbit co-founded FrontlineSMS:Medic and HopePhones to bring the innovative use of mobile phones for healthcare to the developing world. We also spotted Ken Banks (Social Innovation Fellow 2008), and the artwork of Chris Jordan (PopTech 2007, 2009).
  • Finally, congratulations to PopTech board member John Legend (PopTech 2007, 2010) on 3 Grammy wins last Sunday!

If you’d like to receive a stream of these updates (and more) throughout the week in real time, follow us on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the PopTech blog.

Image: Marian Bantjes

PopTech interview: An obsession with the past projects Friends of the Pleistocene into the future

In our hectic lives, days pass into weeks into years. But how often are we confronted with evidence of a world from thousands of years prior, when glaciers covered the earth and we were evolving into what we’ve become today? Actually, much more often than we think. Evidence of the most recent geologic epoch preceding the current era we’re in – from 2,588,000 to 12,000 years BP and known as the Pleistocene – is all around us. Its omnipresence forces us to reconsider how we move through time and space.

Organizations such as the Long Now Foundation, which fosters long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10 thousand years, and The Mannahatta Project, which illustrates the original ecology of Manhattan prior to its metamorphosis by European settlers, help widen our purview. And a project called Friends of the Pleistocene (FOP), run by artists and graphic designers Jamie Kruse and Elizabeth Ellsworth, aims to bring greater awareness of the materials and landscapes that originated during the Pleistocene, which we encounter every day. In addition to helping us rethink how we travel through the world and evoking a sense of mystery to our often overlooked environment, their projects move us to consider the evidence we’ll be leaving behind for the next epoch.

PopTech: The FOP website states that the project explores the “conjuncture between landscape and contemporary human activity at sites shaped by the geologic epoch of the Pleistocene.” Could you elaborate further?
Jamie Kruse: We’re interested in how humans have evolved in response to landscape over the past ten thousand years. We started thinking about the Pleistocene during research trips as artists in the American West. We were encountering landscapes where you could still see the effects of the geologic era of the Pleistocene on the surface of the earth primarily in the form of ancient lake beds, which have been used a lot for runways and bombing ranges. We started to realize that geologic landscapes have been put to use in very different ways by contemporary humans than they were used in the past so that’s where we started with FOP.


Alex Godin: High school in the age of the hacker

Seventeen year old high school junior Alex Godin was a crowd-pleaser when he presented his 5-minute, 20-slide, no-nonsense talk at Ignite NYC last week, Highschool in the Age of the Hacker: What’s Wrong and What’s Right with the High School System. Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, John D. Rockefeller and referencing the movie Office Space, Godin expressed emphatically that, “Hackers don’t care what the rest of the world thinks….They build something great.” Coming on the heels of winning the grand prize at NY Tech Meetup’s Startup weekend, this kid is worth keeping an eye on.

Body browsing by Google

Your anatomy and physiology lesson for the day:

Google Body is a detailed 3D model of the human body. You can peel back anatomical layers, zoom in, click to identify anatomy, or search for muscles, organs, bones and more. You can also share the exact scene you are viewing by copying and pasting the URL.

Orlagh O’Brien helps us get in touch with our emotions

We’re usually not at a loss for words to describe how we feel – as many of us experienced yesterday with expressions of love aplenty for Valentine’s Day. But what if we try to visually represent the emotions that are running through our body? That’s the question graphic designer Orlagh O’Brien was looking to answer with Emotionally}Vague, a project named “in honor of the people who don’t know how they feel.”

In a survey, O’Brien asked 250 people to represent five emotions – anger, joy, fear, sadness, and love – through words, color, and drawings of dots, lines and arrows on a human silhouette. She planned to gather the data and then figure out how to visually represent the responses. As the results trickled in, O’Brien realized, as she explained at PopTech, “there was enough data from what people were drawing to suggest patterns of feelings.”

To show those patterns, O’Brien layered the drawn responses over one another with enough transparency to obtain the collective essence of the each emotion. On love, Orlagh recently elaborated:

Love is spread evenly around the body, similar to the whole body sensation of joy. It has the widest range outside the boundary of the body, far more so than the other emotions, suggesting the greatest reach to the world around.

Hack a Kinect to make a music video: Echo Lake's Young Silence

Reminiscent of the 2008 lidar-driven video Aaron Koblin produced for Radiohead, Dan Nixon and Dom Jones used a hacked Microsoft Kinect to film this haunting and ethereal music video for the band Echo Lake. The band’s debut EP, “Young Silence,” was released today on No Pain in Pop:

The neuroscience behind your romantic attachments

Jerry, George, and all the main characters from the 1990s sitcom, Seinfeld, had attachment issues when it came to relationships. More specifically, they were characterized by what Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller call an avoidant attachment style. They tended to shy away from intimacy or closeness, sent mixed signals, refused to commit, and had difficulty communicating with their partners.

At last night’s The Neuroscience of Romantic Attachment event at The New York Academy of Sciences and just in time for Valentine’s Day, Levine and Heller, authors of Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love, laid out the three attachment styles that can predict the long-term success of romantic relationships. Avoidant attachment, like Jerry and the Seinfeld gang; anxious attachment where a person is constantly worried about the state of his relationship; and secure attachment where a person has little trouble expressing her needs or wants, is comfortable with closeness, and is an excellent communicator.

A handful of noteworthy morsels came out of the session. According to Levine and Heller’s research:

  • 25% of people change their attachment style every four years.
  • Looking at a picture of your partner during a stressful or painful situation is almost as good as taking a Tylenol.
  • People in good relationships actually heal better.
  • Attachment styles affect one’s perception; people actually read words or interpret facial expressions, like when someone is about to cry, based on their attachment style.

Yet when all was said and done, a certain complexity seemed to be lacking from their analysis, which perhaps is resolved in their book. Romantic attachment isn’t as cut and dry as falling into three categories, right? It’s more of a continuum for most people rather than an either/or scenario. Also, Levine and Heller kept returning to the consensus that most relationship issues are resolved or bonds are strengthened if one partner has a secure attachment style. Well, okay…easier said than done.