“American males enter adulthood through a peculiar rite of passage - they spend most of their savings on a shiny piece of rock. They could invest the money in assets that will compound over time and someday provide a nest egg. Instead, they trade that money for a diamond ring, which isn’t much of an asset at all. As soon as you leave the jeweler with a diamond, it loses over 50% of its value.
Americans exchange diamond rings as part of the engagement process, because in 1938 De Beers decided that they would like us to. Prior to a stunningly successful marketing campaign 1938, Americans occasionally exchanged engagement rings, but wasn’t a pervasive occurrence. Not only is the demand for diamonds a marketing invention, but diamonds aren’t actually that rare. Only by carefully restricting the supply has De Beers kept the price of a diamond high.
Countless American dudes will attest that the societal obligation to furnish a diamond engagement ring is both stressful and expensive. But here’s the thing - this obligation only exists because the company that stands to profit from it willed it into existence.
So here is a modest proposal: Let’s agree that diamonds are bullshit and reject their role in the marriage process. Let’s admit that as a society we got tricked for about century into coveting sparkling pieces of carbon, but it’s time to end the nonsense.”
“Kilian Jornet Burgada is the most dominating endurance athlete of his generation. In just eight years, Jornet has won more than 80 races, claimed some 16 titles and set at least a dozen speed records, many of them in distances that would require the rest of us to purchase an airplane ticket. He has run across entire landmasses (Corsica) and mountain ranges (the Pyrenees), nearly without pause. He regularly runs all day eating only wild berries and drinking only from streams. On summer mornings he will set off from his apartment door at the foot of Mont Blanc and run nearly two and a half vertical miles up to Europe’s roof — over cracked glaciers, past Gore-Tex’d climbers, into the thin air at 15,781 feet — and back home again in less than seven hours, a trip that mountaineers can spend days to complete. A few years ago Jornet ran the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail and stopped just twice to sleep on the ground for a total of about 90 minutes. In the middle of the night he took a wrong turn, which added perhaps six miles to his run. He still finished in 38 hours 32 minutes, beating the record of Tim Twietmeyer, a legend in the world of ultrarunning, by more than seven hours. When he reached the finish line, he looked as if he’d just won the local turkey trot.”
Becoming the All-Terrain Human | NYT
“Carson is a private person. She prefers to be alone. (When her husband is traveling, Carson will call and tell him, “I miss you, but I’m having a great time.”) Her book jackets have no author photo. Her back-flap biography — “Anne Carson was born in Canada and teaches ancient Greek for a living” — is so minimalist that it sounds like a parody of a back-flap biography. […]
Carson is usually referred to as a poet, but just about no one finds that label satisfying: her fans (for whom she does something more than poetry), her critics (for whom she does something less than poetry) or herself. She often labels her work in conspicuously nonpoetic terms. Her book “The Beauty of the Husband” is subtitled “A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos.” Her book “Decreation” is subtitled “Poetry, Essays, Opera.” Carson gives the impression — on the page, at readings — of someone from another world, either extraterrestrial or ancient, for whom our modern earthly categories are too artificial and simplistic to contain anything like the real truth she is determined to communicate. For two decades her work has moved — phrase by phrase, line by line, project by improbable project — in directions that a human brain would never naturally move. The approach has won her awards (MacArthur, Guggenheim, Lannan) and accolades and an electric reputation in the literary world.
In her day job, Carson, who is 62, is a professor of erratic subjects (ancient Greek, attention, artistic collaboration) at various universities around North America, where she appears for a semester at a time as — as she often puts it — “a visiting [whatever].” (Even when she says this out loud, she makes the bracket sign with her hands.) This, I think, is the best catchall description of Carson. Wherever she goes, whatever she does, she is always a “visiting [whatever].””
The Inscrutable Brilliance of Anne Carson
The Professor, the Bikini Model and the Suitcase Full of Trouble
In November 2011, Paul Frampton, a theoretical particle physicist, met Denise Milani, a Czech bikini model, on the online dating site Mate1.com. She was gorgeous — dark-haired and dark-eyed, with a supposedly natural DDD breast size. In some photos, she looked tauntingly steamy; in others, she offered a warm smile. Soon, Frampton and Milani were chatting online nearly every day. Frampton would return home from campus — he’d been a professor in the physics and astronomy department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for 30 years — and his computer would buzz. “Are you there, honey?” They’d chat on Yahoo Messenger for a while, and then he’d go into the other room to take care of something. A half-hour later, there was the familiar buzz. It was always Milani. “What are you doing now?”
“It’s time we stopped disavowing happiness and measured pride, we punk survivors, wrapping ourselves in itchy thrift-store horse blankets thinking that only discomfort is honest. It’s time we stopped hating ourselves, our ambition, and our sincerity, guarding our integrity credentials in fear of interrogation by the secret punk police. It’s time to unmask punk rock, admit that it has done us no favors, and banish it from our minds. There is no one waiting for us at the gates of heaven with a big book of punk, ready to judge our souls and validate our credibility. Punk rock is bullshit, and was always bullshit. Say it with me.”
“As the three continued their work, they noticed something else that was remarkable: again and again one group of people appeared to be particularly unusual when compared to other populations—with perceptions, behaviors, and motivations that were almost always sliding down one end of the human bell curve.
In the end they titled their paper “The Weirdest People in the World?” (pdf) By “weird” they meant both unusual and Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. It is not just our Western habits and cultural preferences that are different from the rest of the world, it appears. The very way we think about ourselves and others—and even the way we perceive reality—makes us distinct from other humans on the planet, not to mention from the vast majority of our ancestors. Among Westerners, the data showed that Americans were often the most unusual, leading the researchers to conclude that “American participants are exceptional even within the unusual population of Westerners—outliers among outliers.”
Given the data, they concluded that social scientists could not possibly have picked a worse population from which to draw broad generalizations. Researchers had been doing the equivalent of studying penguins while believing that they were learning insights applicable to all birds.”
We Aren’t the World (Why Americans Are the Weirdest People in the World)
The implication is that many of us use the Internet — and the devices, programs, and databases connected to it — as an extension of our brains. This is not a metaphor; the studies indicate that it is a literal reallocation of mental energy. In a way, it makes sense to conserve our brain capacity by storing only the meager data that will allow us to retrieve facts from an external storage device. Or at least Albert Einstein thought so, once remarking: “Never memorize what you can look up in books.”
For half a century neuroscientists have known that specific neuronal pathways grow and proliferate when used, while the disuse of neuron “trees” leads to their shrinkage and gradual loss of efficacy. Even before those discoveries, McLuhan described the process metaphorically, writing that when we adapt to a new tool that extends a function previously performed by the mind alone, we gradually lose touch with our former capacity because a “built-in numbing apparatus” subtly anesthetizes us to accommodate the attachment of a mental prosthetic connecting our brains seamlessly to the enhanced capacity inherent in the new tool.
In Plato’s dialogues, when the Egyptian god Theuth tells one of the kings of Egypt, Thamus, that the new communications technology of the age — writing — would allow people to remember much more than previously, the king disagreed, saying, “It will implant forgetfulness in their souls: they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.” 
So this dynamic is hardly new. What is profoundly different about the combination of Internet access and mobile personal computing devices is that the instantaneous connection between an individual’s brain and the digital universe is so easy that a habitual reliance on external memory (or “exomemory”) can become an extremely common behavior. The more common this behavior becomes, the greater one comes to rely on exomemory — and the less one relies on memories stored in the brain itself. What becomes more important instead are the “external marks” referred to by Thamus 2,400 years ago.
Indeed, one of the new measures of practical intelligence in the twenty-first century is the ease with which someone can quickly locate relevant information on the Internet.
Al Gore, The Future |The Atlantic