Friday, March 14, 2014

Big Ideas with Megan McArdle, David McRaney, and Clive Thompson at the PLA Conference

When I saw that today's events at the Public Library Association conference started with three author in a one hour time slot, I wondered how it would work. Were they going to be on a panel? Luckily for us, the answer was no. They each got about 15 minutes to speak. It occurs to me now that their concise presentations were like TED Talks.

Megan McArdle, author of The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success, started by saying that when she was a child, she asked her parents if she could move to the library (without them implied). They won't let her. It was just the first of many things in her life that did not work out as she planned. With humor, she said that an investment professional friend always wanted to know where she worked so he could avoid investing in that doomed company. While not liking her failures, she now sees how each was a lesson and a step toward success. She recounted historical failures that led to important developments and wondered how our companies, governments, and society will ever see such developments again now that failure is ostracized. Nothing risked, nothing gained.

David McRaney, author of You Are Not So Smart and You Are Now Less Dumb and other books, gave us a number sequencing test. He started by giving us 2, 4, 6 and then 10, 12, 14. When we knew the rule we could lower our hands. We almost all lowered right away. and we were all wrong. He then talked about how we often tend to accept logical fallacies if they prove what we want to be right. Our memories are bad, our perceptions are flawed, and we really can not improve much. For this reason, we should ask questions,check facts, and get help. We need others. (At least, that is what I perceived as his message. I could be wrong.)

Clive Thompson, author of Smarter Than You Think, showed us a series of photos of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Actually, it was the same photo except another member of Stalin's cabinet disappeared in each subsequent image. Stalin was alone in the final image. This was done by expert photo developers before Photoshop. Now almost anyone can do this with cheap or free software. With other low cost technology, we can publish our own ebooks, make our own video games, do our own science research, study word frequencies in classical literature, fact check our leaders, and start revolutions. The trend in technology is to inform and empower us.

There was not time to say how this all applied to libraries, but we can work it out.

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