Posts tagged ‘Essay’

March 12, 2015

As We May Think


as we may think

As We May Think‘ is an essay by engineer and Raytheon founder Vannevar Bush, first published in ‘The Atlantic’ in July 1945, and republished again as an abridged version two months later — before and after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Bush expresses his concern for the direction of scientific efforts toward destruction, rather than understanding, and explicates a desire for a sort of collective memory machine with his concept of the memex that would make knowledge more accessible, believing that it would help fix these problems. Through this machine, Bush hoped to transform an information explosion into a knowledge explosion.

The article was a reworked and expanded version of Bush’s 1939 essay ‘Mechanization and the Record’ where he described a machine that would combine lower level technologies to achieve a higher level of organized knowledge (like human memory processes). Shortly after the publication of this essay, Bush coined the term ‘memex’ in a letter written to the editor of ‘Fortune’ magazine. That letter became the body of ‘As We May Think,’ adding only an introduction and conclusion.

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December 18, 2013

The Limits of Individual Plasticity


The Limits of Individual Plasticity‘ is an 1895 essay by science fiction author H.G. Wells offering his theories on the plasticity of animals. He argues that the default biological form of an animal could be altered so radically that it is no longer recognizable and still survive. This could, according to Wells, theoretically be achieved through surgical, or chemical modification. Wells was fully aware that surgical modification is only a physical change, and would not alter an animal’s genetic blueprint. He made note that should an animal be surgically modified, their offspring would most likely retain their parent creature’s original physical form.

These concepts were central to his 1896 science fiction novel, ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau.’ In the book, an Englishman is shipwrecked on a secluded island owned and operated by an eminent British physiologist named Dr. Moreau. Moreau was shunned from the scientific community when his horrific experiments of vivisection were brought to the public spotlight, but continued his work on his private island, where animals are altered with great detail to resemble human beings. They are a defective experiment, as they will revert to their bestial forms after a period of time.

April 24, 2013

The Relativity of Wrong

The Relativity of Wrong is a 1988 essay collection by Isaac Asimov, which takes its title from the most ambitious essay it contains. Like most of the essays Asimov wrote for ‘F&SF Magazine,’ each one in ‘The Relativity of Wrong’ begins with an autobiographical anecdote which serves to set the tone.

Several of the essays form a sequence explaining the discovery and uses of isotopes; the introductory passages in these essays recount Asimov’s not particularly pleasant personal relationship with physical chemist Harold C. Urey, whom he met at Columbia University.

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March 29, 2013

How to Read Donald Duck

How to Read Donald Duck (‘Para leer al Pato Donald’) is a political analysis by Chilean activists Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart, published in 1972. It is a pioneering work on cultural imperialism. Written in the form of essay (or, in the authors’ words, a ‘decolonization manual’), the book is an analysis of mass literature, specifically the Disney comics published for the Latin American market.

It is one of the first social studies of entertainment and the leisure industry from a political-ideological angle, and the book deals extensively with the political role of children’s literature. The book’s thesis is that Disney comics are not only a reflection of the prevailing ideology at the time (capitalism), but that they are also aware of this, and are active agents in spreading the ideology.

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January 23, 2013

The Cathedral and the Bazaar

The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary’ is an essay by Eric S. Raymond on software engineering methods, based on his observations of the Linux kernel development process and his experiences managing an open source project, fetchmail. It examines the struggle between top-down and bottom-up design. It was first presented by the author at the Linux Kongress in 1997 in Germany and was published as part of a book of the same name in 1999.

The essay contrasts two different free software development models: the Cathedral model, in which source code is available with each software release, but code developed between releases is restricted to an exclusive group of software developers. And, the Bazaar model, in which the code is developed over the Internet in view of the public. Raymond credits Linus Torvalds, leader of the Linux kernel project, as the inventor of this process. Raymond also provides anecdotal accounts of his own implementation of this model for the Fetchmail project.

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January 2, 2013

Digital Maoism

digital maoism

In his online essay ‘Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism,’ in ‘Edge’ magazine in 2006, futurist Jaron Lanier criticized the sometimes-claimed omniscience of collective wisdom (including examples such as the Wikipedia article about himself), describing it as ‘digital Maoism.’

He writes ‘If we start to believe that the Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we’re devaluing those people [creating the content] and making ourselves into idiots.’ His criticism aims at several targets which are at different levels of abstraction: any attempt to create one final authoritative bottleneck which channels the knowledge onto society is wrong, regardless whether it is a Wikipedia or any algorithmically created system producing meta information.

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December 11, 2012

On Fairy-Stories


On Fairy-Stories‘ is an essay by J. R. R. Tolkien which discusses the fairy-tale as a literary form. It was initially written (and entitled simply ‘Fairy Stories’) for presentation by Tolkien as the Andrew Lang lecture at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, in 1939.

It first appeared in print, with some enhancement, in 1947, in a festschrift volume (a book honoring a respected person), ‘Essays Presented to Charles Williams,’ compiled by C. S. Lewis. British poet Charles Williams, a friend of Lewis’s, had been relocated with the Oxford University Press staff from London to Oxford during the London blitz in World War II. This allowed him to participate in gatherings of the Inklings (an informal literary discussion group) with Lewis and Tolkien.

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December 4, 2012

The Question Concerning Technology

four causes

For German philosopher Martin Heidegger broadly, the question of being formed the essence of his philosophical inquiry.

In ‘The Question Concerning Technology‘ (‘Die Frage nach der Technik’), Heidegger sustains this inquiry, but turns to the particular phenomenon of technology, seeking to derive the essence of technology and humanity’s role of being with it. Heidegger originally published the text in 1954, in ‘Vorträge und Aufsätze’ (‘Letters and Essays’).

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December 31, 2011

The White Negro

riff raff

vanilla icecream by benjamin douglass

The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster’ is a 9,000 word essay by Norman Mailer that recorded a number of young white people in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s who liked jazz and swing music so much that they adopted black culture as their own.

It was first published in the Summer 1957 issue of ‘Dissent,’ before being published separately by ‘City Lights.’ The so-called white negroes adopted black clothing styles, black jive language, and black music. They mainly associated with black people, distancing themselves from white society.

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June 27, 2011

The Abolition of Work



The Abolition of Work‘ is an essay written by American anarchist, Bob Black in 1985. The essay was part of an anthology of essays entitled ‘The Abolition of Work and Other Essays’ published by Loompanics (a publisher specializing in nonfiction on generally unconventional or controversial topics).

It is an exposition of Black’s ‘type 3 anarchism’ – a blend of post-Situationist theory and individualist anarchism – focusing on a critique of the work ethic. He adopted Situationist tropes that had recently been re-popularized (or recuperated) by pop bands of the time (Bow Wow Wow in particular having earlier featured ‘demolition of the work ethic’ and ‘there’s no need to work ever’ among similar lines in their lyrics).

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May 20, 2011

Wear Sunscreen

Mary Schmich

Wear Sunscreen is the common name of an essay titled ‘Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young’ written by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, and published in 1997, but often erroneously attributed to a commencement speech by author Kurt Vonnegut.

Both its subject and tone are similar to the 1927 poem ‘Desiderata.’ The most popular and well-known form of the essay is the music single ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen),’ released in 1998, by Baz Luhrmann.