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Ideas Week

Friday, October 12, 2012

Thanks to smartphones, we're now in the golden age of reading

Posted By on 10.12.12 at 06:51 AM

What makes Chris Hughes qualified to talk about technology? Nothing really—he just helped create Facebook.
  • Max Souffriau
  • What makes Chris Hughes qualified to talk about technology? Nothing really—he just helped create Facebook.
If you tune in at all to the near-constant chatter about the precarious state of quality journalism, you’ve probably heard that the digital revolution is largely to blame for quality journalism's decline—that publishers beholden to smartphones and social networks are guilty of rewarding consumers with short attention spans, and that, as a result, those attention spans continue to shrink.

How, then, does the Reader ethos fit into the brave new world of digital news consumption? Conventional wisdom might hold that a 41-year-old publication that once printed a 20,000-word story about beekeeping is in trouble. It would seem that the smartphone and the social networks are killing our soul. They’re not. In fact, they might save it.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Has Chicago's Fed president saved our economy?

Posted By on 10.10.12 at 09:15 AM

Charles Evans Chicago Fed economy
  • Brian O'Mahoney/Sun-Times Media
  • Evans speaking this January in Lake Forest
Besides the threat on Big Bird's life, all I can remember from last week's presidential debate is the bickering over whose jobs package is bigger. The economy was always going to be the central issue of this campaign, so you'd think both Romney and Obama would have prepared clearer policies than "I'll add more natural gas jobs than the other guy." There's little more substance than that on either of the campaigns' official websites. Even an NPR analysis of the candidates' plans resorts to close readings of stump speeches and campaign ads.

Why hasn't the economy grown faster since the big crash in 2008, and how can it now? That's as much the job of Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, as the president's. A scholar of the Great Depression, Bernanke had the Fed prevent inflation risked by the bailouts Bush and Obama approved so the economy wouldn't crash like it did 80 years prior. While the record-low interest rates he put in place may have staved off worse damage by priming investment in the private sector, they didn't convince businesses to scale back to prerecession levels—unemployment remains high, and after a couple of years that started to bother some economists, like Paul Krugman, who point out that the Fed is mandated to balance unemployment as well as inflation. Last month, Bernanke caved, and to combat unemployment he's turned to a promising idea developed here, by Chicago Fed president Charles Evans. The day Bernanke announced the aggressive bond-buying program tied to employment numbers that Evans had boosted for two years now, the stock market jumped like a frog for a fly, and I'm surprised more people in Chicago haven't been gloating about it.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A recipe for good ideas?

Posted By on 10.09.12 at 06:50 AM

These will do.
  • These will do.
I don't know where I learned this (it's likely apocryphal), but Salvador Dali purportedly developed a special method to capture his unconscious ideas. When drowsy, he'd sit over a plate holding a spoon; as soon as he started to fall asleep, his hand would relax, the spoon would hit the plate, and the sound would rouse him enough to record what had passed through his mind as he was losing control over it. After he jotted down everything he could remember, he'd pick up the spoon and begin the procedure again.

I keep meaning to test this experiment, but I never think to grab a spoon when I'm tired. Still, I love the final thoughts that materialize before sleep, which are slightly more concrete than dreams (and thus more receptive to conscious manipulation) but share dreams' liberating illogic. It's possible that none of these thoughts are especially coherent; my vague memories of them have more to do with their flow than their content. And sharing enough bedrooms over the years has taught me that what a person considers astute when he's falling asleep might strike him as gibberish when he's fully awake—statements like "No, you're my lion," to quote my first college roommate.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

"Hey, I have an idea," this week on the Bleader

Posted By on 10.08.12 at 08:47 AM

Paved paradise, put up Chicago in a lightbulb.
  • Paved paradise, put up Chicago in a lightbulb.
Today marks the first day of Chicago Ideas Week, a festival/conference/seminar from now until Sunday that features a range of presentations and events, all seemingly about "ideas" . . . but not really. Featuring discussions with topics such as "Future of News: What's the Story?" (presented by Time magazine) and "Explorers: Seeking the Edge" (presented by the edgy Hyatt hotels), the conference also boasts a number of famous people, in politics (Colin Powell), film (Edward Norton), and sports (Lance Armstrong), among others. To coincide with this elaborate, vague conference, we've decided to make this week's Variations on a Theme about "ideas."

If Chicago Ideas Week has any precedent, it's transparently the TED talks, traveling, videotaped "webinars" wherein a variety of people give oddly new-agey presentations about big, unwieldy topics. In other words: glorified Introduction to Philosophy classes. TED talks, as have already been recounted elsewhere, have become viral Internet memes. This nascent industry seems to have spawned competitors with its success, and Chicago Ideas Week is our local edition. And how was this conference able to book so many famous people? It's sponsored by J.P. Morgan, which is presumably footing the bill.

All week long, check back here for writing about ideas, which will be about ideas and possibly about this new notion of "ideas," where talks about inspiration and ungraspable topics are packaged and disseminated as ways to spend your time. And in case you missed it, go here to read writing from Marathon Week, last week's Variations on a Theme.

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Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
The Skin of Our Teeth Greenhouse Theater Center
October 19
Performing Arts
United Flight 232 Chopin Theatre
September 01

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