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robertogreco : subtraction   4

Pico Iyer Reflects on a Quarter-Century of Life in Japan - The New York Times
"In Japan, he notes, people accommodate themselves to small spaces, and so he and Hiroko have for a quarter-century. The transposition from a bustling office tower in Manhattan to a suburb of “the sleepy old city” of Nara has felt to him “as if I’ve walked out of a cluttered warehouse into a simple bare room with a scroll on the wall, everything so singular that emotion is brought to a pitch.” All this is part of what Iyer sees as an aesthetic of enhancement through subtraction, “the Japanese art of taking more and more away to charge the few things that remain.”

The book attempts a similar paring down, composed as it is of brief ruminations, notations, vignettes, descriptions. What holds everything together, besides Iyer’s elegantly smooth prose style and gift for detailed observation, is a circling around the theme of autumn in Japan and this autumnal period in his life. Self-described as having a restless “‘birdlike’ traveler’s temperament,” he spends half the year tending to his aging mother in California or reporting on subjects like “the warlords of Mogadishu,” but tries to get back to Japan each fall. This season teaches him the lesson of impermanence, the inevitability of decay, and “how to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying.” Not much plot to speak of here: We watch Iyer going through his daily rounds, dropping in on his Ping-Pong club, visiting his mother-in-law in her nursing home, recalling scenes from the past. His wife, questioning him apprehensively, says, “Like Ozu movie? … Your book, nothing happening?” “Not exactly nothing,” he replies. “It’s in the spaces where nothing is happening that one has to make a life.” And indeed, he references Ozu films numerous times, particularly the way that cinematic master will cycle through the seasons as a metaphor for the changelessness of the nonhuman world within stories of human change and suffering. Of course, it’s harder to pull off on the page, without sublime actors like Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara to embody the effect.

Iyer’s wife makes for a marvelous presence, zooming away on her motorbike to her job in a boutique, cleaning the house briskly like a tornado or dashing off to honor dead ancestors at shrines and grave sites. Hiroko is the book’s motor, and Iyer is in awe of her energy, even as he says, a bit condescendingly: “It’s one of the qualities I most admire in her: She doesn’t stop to think” and “I have a wife who reminds me with every gesture that the only impulses to trust are the ones that arise without thought.” Hiroko strikes me as more quick-witted than thoughtless, but perhaps Iyer is aspiring, on her behalf, to the Buddhist ideal of the blank mind.

His own self-portrait is dimmer. He comes across as a modest, kind, gentle man, somewhat colorless, as though trying to practice spiritual erasure of the ego. He had moved to Japan “to learn how best to dissolve a sense of self within something larger and less temporary” — an admirable pursuit, though problematic for autobiographical writers. He admits he finds “belief” in general difficult, and says he doesn’t consider himself a Buddhist, but treats with fascinated respect his wife’s conviction that spirits and ghosts exist. He’s a big proponent of his own ignorance, saying he doesn’t choose to learn more than a smattering of Japanese because he needs mystery and “a sense of open space in life, something to offset the sense of the familiar.”

In a way, his attraction to Japan can be seen as an attempt to hold onto its exotic, eternal appeal — to his partly idealized picture of what the East has to offer a Western man in the way of healing. “Autumn Light” isn’t the book to turn to for an account of the political, social and economic problems of today’s Japan. Now in his 60s, Iyer feels free to communicate his tentative revelations about life. There’s much wisdom in what he says, though some of it comes close to platitude. But then, perhaps it’s the nature of hard-earned wisdom to sound like something we’ve heard many times before."
2019  picoiyer  japan  autumn  seasons  fall  impermanence  small  japanese  language  familiarity  ozu  buddhism  spirits  ignorance  familiar  subtraction 
april 2019 by robertogreco
Review: David Sax’s The Revenge of Analog extols the superiority of ‘real things’ - The Globe and Mail
"The key change wrought by digital is that, where scarcity was once the norm, surfeit is now our default. Digital thus represents a kind of inversion. Once, more was better: Technology was improved by more features, knowledge increased with ever more facts and greater choice. Now, it is subtraction that in fact adds to a scenario. The best digital services are those that constrain in some fashion. Netflix and Spotify have both succeeded because they have figured out how to recommend small numbers of titles from thousands of choices.

In his book, Sax outlines the many ways in which analog tech bests digital because of what it does not do. Your paperback novel cannot interrupt your reading to tell you the weather, your newspaper has a start and a finish, and your analog recording studio forces you to make decisions and just cut a track, rather than the malleability of digitally creating “a moving target of unachievable perfection.” In the face of such endlessness, it is subtraction, boundaries – less – that is the strategy for survival in the digital era.

For many, though, this upending of Western thought also represents a world gone topsy-turvy. Sax echoes Sullivan’s complaints about the relentless pace of digital, and its related psychological effects. These are real issues, not to be dismissed lightly. At this early stage of the digital era, we are still stuck on how to achieve balance, particularly now that our technology and the flood of information it brings is with us all the time. When Sax cites the tendency of even young millennials to prefer print, it is because they, like we, are seeking relief. Digital as a tool or medium seems primed to plug most directly into our receptors for pleasure, for the dopamine and serotonin centres that thrive on novelty, lust or conflict, and the unending flow can quickly turn to excess. In contradistinction to that torrent, it is the tactile, physical nature of analog that is its saving grace – its seeming permanence, it’s there-ness, its tendency, quite unlike digital, to be in one place at one time doing one thing. In his book, Sax’s lively, evocative prose conjures reminders of the physical world: Record presses spit and heave, cameras satisfyingly click, and paper crinkles and smells in ways pleasingly familiar.

But the neat line separating digital from analog is more fuzzy than it might appear. Sullivan, Sax, and I – all part of a generation who spent their formative years before the Internet and their adult ones completely saturated with it – have also grown up with plastic Nintendo controllers, button-filled digital cameras, and DVD players armed with an array of LED lights. My own home is littered with the tactile remains of no end of technology, and the chubby, reassuring thickness of the first iPhone I still keep tucked in a drawer has already taken on the same sheen of nostalgia I reserve for old school notebooks or sweaters.

As Sullivan’s piece spoke of a return from the seductive screens, Sax’s constantly extols the superiority of what the text calls “real things.” It is, however, a world cleaved neatly into two neat spheres, digital and analog – so much so that near the end of the book, Sax claims that “digital is not reality. It never was and never will be.” It’s a claim that one might generously characterize as nonsense. To assert that the almost unfathomable explosion of human creativity that fills the Internet sits somehow lower on a hierarchy of ontological realness is absurd.

It is this needless, false dualism that should make one skeptical of claims not only of the superiority of analog, but that such a neat distinction exists at all. In The Revenge of Analog, the alluring material quality of objects is always highlighted, but ignores the fetishism that has led us to revalue it, skipping over the more simple fact that analog has become appealing for the same reason you can’t put your phone down: novelty. Similarly, when speaking of Silicon Valley’s tendency to use lots of paper, Sax’s claim that “analog proves the most efficient way to run a business,” simply isn’t true. One would hardly be better served by doing one’s accounting or inventory using a pen and paper. What works better is finding the right balance between analog and digital – largely because at this moment, that is the only choice there is.

***

The Revenge of Analog is at its core a business book, each chapter the revenge of a new sector – retail, print, film – and is thus a work meant to uncover entrepreneurial opportunities lying in wait. It works best as polemic, as an interjection into a world that has too eagerly assumed digital is in some simple sense better, and perhaps ignored that the limitations of analog are more vital than ever. But in the eagerness to sell a marketable idea, Sax mistakes the fact that digital things cannot be touched for the fact that they are insubstantial.

It is what can be held that enthralls Sax, however, and he is most transfixed by Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools, a thing he calls “exhibit A in analog’s revenge.” Kelly, the founder of Wired magazine, created the Cool Tools book as an homage to the Whole Earth Catalogue, a kind of how-to guide for life from the late sixties that told you how to grow food or build a home – and the sort of thing rendered quite obsolete by the Internet. Cool Tools began as a blog, and started out simply reviewing tools that you need for a dizzying array of practical endeavours – everything from milling your own grains to ways to increase the WiFi signal in your home. Kelly then made the decision to create the book, which quickly sold out on its first run.

For Sax, the book highlights what is best about analog. It lends itself to idle browsing, drawing in anyone who happens to pick it up, its catalogue of useful things evoking the possibility of a life better lived. But beyond its obvious digital origins, or even the inevitability of its creation on and through computers, Cool Tools reveals a world forever changed by the digital landscape. The book’s non-linear mishmash of ideas, the serendipity of their discovery, is a function of its digital past, now formalized by the analog. The two spheres are inextricable, indivisible, not simply in practical terms (each review has a QR code leading to an online store) but in ideological, epistemological ones, too. We cannot help but read the book from our moment in the present where there is no offline and online, but only what scholar J. Sage Elwell calls “onlife”: an existence that is always both digital and analog at once, and irrevocably so. For now, we may struggle to pay attention, but this is our lot. It is already too late for analog’s revenge – the thing to do is figure out how to be human after digital’s victory. There is no going back."
navneetalang  2016  davidsax  kevinkelly  andrewsullivan  digital  analog  less  subtraction  louismenand  jsageelwell  humans  humanity  boundaries 
november 2016 by robertogreco
$1,000,000 Grade 3 Unsolved Problem v2.m4v - YouTube
"These problems are the best way for students to learn subtraction. They are essential in every classroom learning subtraction."
math  mathematics  subtraction  sfsh 
june 2016 by robertogreco
The World Question Center: The Edge Annual Question — 2010: How is the internet changing the way you think?: George Dyson: Kayaks vs Canoes
We used to be kayak builders, collecting all available fragments of information to assemble the framework that kept us afloat. Now, we have to learn to become dugout-canoe builders, discarding unneccessary information to reveal the shape of knowledge hidden within.
georgedyson  subtraction  addition  internet  information  infooverload  change  kayaks  canoes 
january 2010 by robertogreco

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