Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Let there be Light

There is an interesting debate among economists and policy mavens regarding how to measure standards of living - e.g. from a quality of life perspective, would you rather be in the top 5% of income earners in 1850 or in the top 50% today? I am currently reading Boswell's London Journal 1762-1763 and came across this passage that highlights the practical implications of many of the small things we so take for granted.

In this instance, matches, electricity and light. Boswell has made a commitment to himself that he will maintain a detailed record of his time in London, but has lately fallen behind owing to his heavy social schedule, not to say just plain carousing. He is rather put out with himself.
By way therefore of penance for my idleness, and by way of making up for the time lost and bringing up my business, I determined to sit up all this night; which I accordingly did, and wrote a great deal. About two o'clock in the morning I inadvertently snuffed out my candle, and as my fire was long before that black and cold, I was in a great dilemma how to proceed. Downstairs did I softly and silently step to the kitchen. But, alas, there was as little fire there as upon the icy mountains of Greenland. With a tinder-box there is a light struck every morning to kindle the fire, which is put out at night. But this tinder-box I could not see, nor knew where to find. I was now filled with gloomy ideas of the terrors of the night. I was also apprehensive that my landlord, who always keeps a pair of loaded pistols by him, might fire at me as a thief. I went up to my room, sat quietly till I heard the watchman calling ‘Past three o'clock.' I then called to him to knock at the door of the house where I lodged. He did so, and I opened it to him and got my candle relumed without danger. Thus was I relieved and continued busy till eight next day.
(Pages 208-209)

The Power of Books

An interesting article in City Journal this past fall by Nicole Gelinas (A Social-Uplift Program that Works) on the power of books and libraries.

You are the story you tell

I am not sure what I make of the overall research as reported in the New York Times (This is Your Life) but the piece-parts are interesting.
Researchers have found that the human brain has a natural affinity for narrative construction. People tend to remember facts more accurately if they encounter them in a story rather than in a list, studies find; and they rate legal arguments as more convincing when built into narrative tales rather than on legal precedent.

. . .most people do not begin to see themselves in the midst of a tale with a beginning, middle and eventual end until they are teenagers. "Younger kids see themselves in terms of broad, stable traits: ‘I like baseball but not soccer,' " said Kate McLean, a psychologist at the University of Toronto in Mississauga. "This meaning-making capability — to talk about growth, to explain what something says about who I am — develops across adolescence."