Friday Five: Dark Forest Theory

When I was a little girl, I wanted nothing more than to be a space architect. I would draw all kinds of structures for planets in galaxies far, far away. I was also a girl who was afraid of everything – things most kids did not worry about. I was scared of climate change, of cancer, and…of alien communication. Perhaps scared is not the only emotion I had when thinking about life on other planets. Mixed up in that fear was curiosity. I would stare at the stars and try to will intelligent life to talk to me. Ah, the imagination of a child. Aliens never did speak to me. Not exactly. Through science fiction I could explore close encounters of the third kind.

Science fiction brings me immense joy. When I need to rid my brain of swirling thoughts and the daily insanity of work, I open up a science fiction book or binge one of my favorite sci-fi television series, like Battlestar Galactica. I live vicariously through the scientists and humans filled with wanderlust traversing the universe. Immediately, my brain clears – I feel ready to tackle any issue or perceive problems from new angles.

The Friday Five series was meant to help me jump-start writing for myself again. Over the years, writing has been a job required in my work and PhD life. The act of writing hasn’t felt fun because I had lost my voice and no longer to able to write for myself about the subjects that sparked joy inside me. I am halfway through my adult gap year and while my external writing commitments have not diminished (if anything, the quantity of what I have to produce is greater), I am beginning to locate and use my voice – in a more mature and focused way.

When I select a new book to read, I don’t simply choose the next book on my (very) long list of to-read material. The book selects me. I open myself up to want to explore a topic and have always found the right book to satisfy that hunger at the right time. I have tried to take this approach when selecting the material for this Friday Five series. I let the topic or theme come to me. And when it does, damn – everywhere I turn, there is no reference material!

The spark that lit my curiosity for the ‘dark forest’ theme came in Seb Chan’s Fresh & New e-newsletter - please subscribe to this newsletter. Seb Chan is currently the Chief Experience Officer at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne. I have never before paid money to receive content from a single individual, until I subscribed to Seb’s e-newsletter and I guarantee this is brain food you will want to consume. In the most recent newsletter (#24 Listening & Clubs and Listening Clubs), Seb Chan introduces the ‘dark forest’ theory as a way to consider the museum’s role. He says:

When people in the cultural sector talk about museums or libraries as aiming to become ‘town squares’ or similar, I wonder if they are missing a trick. A town square is where only the loudest voices can be heard. Perhaps a town square is not what is needed, but an ecology of smaller niches where smaller voices thrive? And the institutional role lies in being a facilitator of the connections between niches?

What is the ‘dark forest’ theory and how might it help us answer these questions? The questions posed by Seb Chan are not particular to museums. Here are five resources to help you unpack and consider ‘dark forest’ theory:

I have always thought consuming and writing sci-fi would make me a better critical thinker. Perhaps after you have had time to consider the resources shared this week, you will be more inclined not to brush off sci-fi as a nonsensical genre, but as a way to open our minds to consider new perspectives and unlock our immediate ecosystems.

Friday Five: Social Trust

This semester, I am teaching Museum Informatics at the Harvard Extension School. Informatics is one of my favorite courses to teach – we cover data collection and use, visualization, and tech ethics. Teaching helps me focus my thoughts, talk through new ideas and theories, and explore various uses of technology application. I am also forced to confront and remain curious about the dark side of technology. With the release of Netflix’s The Great Hack and other news / media events, there is no escaping these conversations.

Rather than point fingers and lay blame, I desire to learn more about the behaviors and motivations of the people on the receiving end of false news and highly influential communications. This has led me down the path of exploring the concept of ‘social trust’ – So, here are my top five thought starters of the week:

  1. Podcast: The Hidden Brain – July 22, 2019 (51 mins): Facts aren’t enough
  2. Tweet: @RyanHoliday – July 24, 2019: “Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.”
  3. Article: Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, Cornell University
  4. Book: Social Contract Theory by M. Lessnoff
  5. Video: The Great Hack (doc) on Netflix + Bonus: (Wired UK) Netflix’s The Great Hack skewers Cambridge Analytica, but misses the real targets

Friday Five: Tech Ethics

Let me hear your best Jeff Goldblum impression:

Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

In this week’s Friday Five, I am exploring tech ethics. The topic was on my mind last week on the heels of participating in a panel discussion about museums and AI. You know that feeling, right – when something is rattling around inside your skull and you can’t quite be rid of the thought until you mold it into something that makes sense?

This week, everything I am reading has some connection to the Apollo moon landing anniversary – people are stretching to make the case for greater risk for greater good and innovation. And all I keep thinking is, are we taking time to consider any unintended consequences or reflect on if we are spending time and energy on innovation in the right places and spaces?

So, here are my top five thought starters of the week:

  1. Podcast: (Listen to this first: Note to Self – February 21, 2017: Privacy, Data Survivalism and a New Tech Ethics) + ZigZag – June 6, 2019: Why Craiglist’s Founder Just Wrote COnsumer Reports a $6m Check
  2. Tweet: Vishal Kumar’s highlights from the #MuseumAI event at Barbican Centre
  3. Article: Why You Should Study Philosophy by Ryan Holiday
  4. Book: Meditations by Marcus Aurelias
  5. Video: The Veil of Ignorance

Friday Five: Reflecting on patriotism

Many moons ago, I vlogged weekly about my #bookdna recommendations. I am much more comfortable with the written word than video, so the series fizzled, but I continue to share my #bookdna recommendations on Instagram and Twitter. I read a lot, but it is more than just books. While I share quite a bit about what I am reading on my social networks, this selection does not capture the handful of items that capture my interest and cause me to pause and reflect for a longer time than it takes to hit publish.

This week, I have been bouncing between four countries in five days via planes, trains, and automobiles…and now, bikes. Unlike my friends and family in the USA, I did not celebrate the Fourth of July yesterday with the Boston Pops and fireworks, nor am I preparing to enjoy a long weekend. The separation from the spectacle, has given me space to consider what makes me proud about being an American and differentiate this interest from what I find particularly cringeworthy. I spend a lot of time thinking about these topics while trying to assimilate in two separate countries (UK for work and the Netherlands for new home life).

Here is my Friday Five selection of items to read, watch, and reflect:

  1. What doesn’t kill you: An interview with Sabrina Orah Mark This is a #bookdna selection – In her new book Wild Milk, Orah Mark challenges the reader to determine what is real  what is described in the book or the environment in which one reads the book? The collection of fiction stories intermingled with poetry are meant to jar us from what we think is real and examine the qualities of what makes these environments real to us at various times in our lives. Through the process of creative destruction, Orah Mark dissembles her readers and builds them back up into more aware human beings.
  2. This America: The Case for a nation by Jill Lepore This is another #bookdna selection – Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer, Jill Lepore gives the reader a crash course on nationalism – the good, the bad, and the ugly, and finds a way to transform our history into a manifesto for a better nation and develop an opportunity to reclaim our future by understanding and reclaiming our past. Forget the debauchery surrounding the upcoming primaries, and read this book to decide the type of candidate who can represent you, your dreams, and desires, and discover the type of leader who can work work with others to move this country forward in a productive way.
  3. Why is America so far behind Europe on Digital Privacy? This is a question I constantly field from my UK colleagues after the one year anniversary of GDPR. Ask an average worker what they know of FGPR or what has changed as a result of GDPR, and I am afraid you will be disappointed with the results. How might our countries work together to educate our publics of what they have access to, what they are giving away, and where it is most appropriate to push for regulation. We are stronger together.
  4. The West Wing Weekly: 365 Days - I may not have missed the hot afternoon of US celebrations from my London flat, and the crowded swarm of bodies in line to purchase a soft drink or queue for a toilet, but I did enjoy immersing myself in the rhetoric of West Wing dialogue and wonder – what if – what if there were not fiction? One of my favorite WW episodes is 365 days where the important ideas of the day and year are crowded out by the urgent. I see this vicious cycle happen in for and non-profit companies. How do we break out of this cycle and fight back to be on course? Watch the episode or listen to the delightful West Wing Weekly podcast break down this episode. What would you do if you were Leo or CJ or the President? How do you get back on track? How do you say yes to high level work without sacrificing all other forms of low level work? This is a delicate dance to be mastered.
  5. Kid’s author Mo Willems has a new challenge (and so should you) – It is not simply enough to explain to our children the need to be emotionally aware and the importance to build emotional intelligence prowess to navigate the school day and then, ultimately an illustrious career. Willems gets on kids’ level by using the characters we love as teachers and models a journey for kids and adults to learn from, and honestly depicts how this learning style and emotional growth fuels his own process as he is challenged with new creative challenges in his artist in residency program at the Kennedy Center.

Happy reading and reflecting!