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ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

Forum File

Saturday, March 1, 2014 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“When selfie was crowned the Word of 2013 by the Oxford Dictionaries, the media reaction ranged from apocalyptic to cautiously optimistic. For the Calgary Herald's Andrew Cohen, 'selfie culture' represents the 'critical mass' of selfish entitlement; for Navneet Alang in the Globe and Mail, selfies are inextricable from the need for self-expression, a 'reminder of what it means to be human.' For the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland, the selfie is both: at once 'the ultimate emblem of the age of narcissism' and a function of the 'timeless human need to connect.'

With a few exceptions, commentators tended to converge on one point: The selfie, and the unencumbered act of self-creation it represents, is unmistakably of our time, shorthand for a whole host of cultural tropes wedded to the era of the smartphone. As Jennifer O'Connell, writing for the Irish Times, puts it: 'It's hard to think of a more appropriate – or more depressing – symbol of the kind of society we have become. We are living in an age of narcissism, an age in which only our best, most attractive, most carefully constructed selves are presented to the world.'

“But our obsession with the power of self-creation – and its symbiotic relationship with the technology that makes it possible – is hardly new. Even the 'selfie artist' is hardly a creation of 2013. Its genesis isn't in the iPhone, but in the painted portrait: not among the Twitterati, but among the silk-waistcoated dandies of nineteenth-century Paris.”

From “Keep Smiling” at theparisreview.com

A quiz

What was the first feature film created solely with computer-generated images?

Wisdom of the ages

“It is not a lack of love but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Current wisdom

“Right now I'm focusing on trying to learn the plays, learning the coverages and the game plan and the assignments. So I didn't have time to really think about history.” – Jason Collins, after signing a 10-day contract Sunday with the Brooklyn Nets and becoming the NBA's first active openly gay player.

Quiz answer

“Toy Story” (1995). More than 800,000 hours of mathematical equations went into the film, according to RandomHistory.com, which works out to more than a week of computer time for every second on the screen.

Snob words

deipnosophist (dahyp-NOS-uh-fist), n. – someone who is an adept conversationalist at the table, as in: “The editorial writer found he didn't become a deipnosophist until his third glass of wine.”

Today in history

On this date in 1781, the Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation; maybe we ought to go back to it.

Now you know

Seahorses are the only fish that swim upright.