Ideas Worth Spreading from A Week in Canada [#116]
Observations on AI, art, and life after a week of TED shenanigans.
I’m hurtling through the air in a metal tube after a week of learning, discovery, performances and art at TED 2023 in Vancouver. The whole experience is total sensory overload. 1,800 attendees. Al Gore huddles over the end table of a couch with his tiny lunch plate, amongst the rest of us. The CEO of TikTok showed me the TikTok he made when he was in Seoul. A lot of dinners, discovery sessions, talks. I think I watched something like 77 TED Talks live. Maybe more. I also interviewed a lot of big thinkers — Misan Harriman, the first black photographer who made the cover of British Vogue, the mesmerizing Kenyan visual artist Wangechi Mutu, and the Open BCI founder Conor Russomano, among others.
This story of a refugee musician from Afghanistan, and his violin. Small acts of kindness matter more than you think. The obituary for Logan Roy. LA authors were asked about the best literary works about the city, and one of the responses was 100 percent pure gold: “‘Literary fiction’ is a fake category concocted in New York. There is no L.A. ‘literary fiction’ and thank God for that. Let the snobs stay on the East Coast.” And just in time for more sunshine, here are the best sunscreens without white cast, and the Wirecutter rating of best ice cream sandwiches. (Because I like a high ice-cream to cookie ratio, I am partial to Fat Boy, but unlisted here is my ultimate fave ice cream sandwich, the one from DQ, which has the best crispy cookies.) I missed my calling as an “unhealthy foods” critic.
Werk Werk Werk
A lot is going on with the book, so I’ll spare you except to say if you have not pre-ordered, I’ve partnered with my local bookstore, Skylight, to offer signed and personalized copies of Flawless. If you want one for yourself, or as a gift, you can specify who to make it out to. This is running for only a few more weeks so get those orders in.
For work, it was all TED, all the time. I need more time to fully process it, so here’s a brain dump that’s not fully formed:
I learned about…
Umwelt, which describes the perceptions of reality from other living things — how a plant sees reality, or how any other creature, or even bacteria does. There’s an experiential artist Ersin Han Ersin, who spoke here and melds VR and digital design and haptics to help us see the umwelt of trees, and he has a giant installation to take you inside a giant Sequoia, and down into its roots, up through its branches and leaves. It reminded me of a hallucinogenic trip, only without drugs.
Mud bricks are more sustainable than any other construction material right now, and surprisingly stronger than clay bricks. We should use them more.
How half of all pregnancies in the US are unwanted pregnancies, and a majority of those pregnancies resulted from people who were on birth control(!)
Patterns seen in tiles dating to 10th century mosques show the evidence of a similar, deep truth or order that spans time and civilizations. Math maybe proves god.
Emerging technologies — VR, AI, brain computer interfaces, Web3 — it’s still too early in a technology’s life cycle to have a comprehensive understanding of what they’re good for, and a lot of legit concerns about how they can be destructive.
What I was reminded of…
In this tipping moment for AI and its possibilities, a photographer reminded us that art isn’t just generative. Art is also connecting one human’s quest for discovery and sharing it in a way that resonates with others, and that stayed with me because it’s a way we writers and journalists can be “artists,” too.
Nature is never static, and lessons from nature can be applied to our human lives, because we’re not so different than birds or bats or bees or trees — in a state of constant evolution.
OK that’s it from here. This newsletter has been and always will be free. I invite you to share it with anyone who might want to follow along, and encourage y’all to subscribe. Thank you for indulging me with this post-TED brain dump, because my brain feels like nacho cheese but I still wanted to get something out.
PS. As Twitter continues its downward march (where is the bottom?), I published my first note on Substack Notes, and would love for you to join me there!
Notes is a new space on Substack for us to share links, short posts, quotes, photos, and more. I’ll use it for things that don’t fit in the newsletter, like work-in-progress or quick questions.