Open letter

Dear Yann,

I hope these words find you in good health and high spirits. [to add: short funny and self deprecating story about myself]

cadburrys_guardianI write you to collect your thoughts on a puzzle that has bothered me in the last few days. Some of the newspaper websites that I visit regularly have called on their readers to send “images of the recession.” National Public Radio’s Planet Money has collected in bulk over 300 pictures in flickr. The UK Guardian has a recession monitor, also in flickr, introduced frantically “So it looks like we’re in a recession, or heading for one. Or are we? How do we know? We want to see your shots of how the recession is (or isn’t) affecting your area.” Finally, the New York Times has not outsourced and hosts “Picturing the Recession” with some cool flash enabled browsing. I recall our conversations about the FSA photographs and discussing Cara Finnegan’s book Picturing Poverty on that same topic. These are items of visual culture as you are fond of calling them, and I of echoing. I wondered if you had noticed this phenomena and if you see how one can speak meaningfully about it.

Cynically, I see these as mostly gimmicks to draw people to web content and give them a stake of ownership. The websites and the newspapers make no direct use of the readers’ photographs, I found no references to these besides the appeals for more. It does not help newsprint in imagining the economy as the FSA photographs did by design. What do you think we can draw from these? May they tell us something about popular culture? If these are clues, what is the mystery?

[to add: tangent about some of the photographs, and so cool down the letter]

With best regards,
[to add: my name]

P.S. [to add: joke about recipe of cod and fava beans…]

Two cultures, three cultures, and feeling dizzy

2628723One of those people that have initials for their first name, CP Snow is famous and infamous for a lecture given 50 years ago at Cambridge University. In “Two cultures and the Scientific Revolution”, Snow indicted the humanities for halting the progress of society. The literary inclined Universities were unwelcoming to the knowledge and methods of technologists and natural scientists. (A likely third culture might be social scientists, whether angels or devils, I don’t know if Snow specified.) In the New York Times book review section Peter Dizikes, a science writer, thought again about the Snow essay and tried to get something fresh and contemporary out of it. And it seems quite a struggle to make that text speak again. The world seems less binary without the Cold War. Dizikes concludes hurriedly:

the aspect of “The Two Cultures” that speaks most directly to us today. Your answer — and many different ones are possible — probably determines how widely and deeply you think we need to spread scientific knowledge. Do we need to produce more scientists and engineers to fight climate change? How should they be deployed? Do we need broader public understanding of the issue to support governmental action? Or do we need something else?

The equivalent of the “two cultures” is a bureaucratic decision about what kinds of big science to fund? I guess that means the humanities lost, but then again it was never their war…