Good Reads: From a Van Gogh find, to undocumented students, to Web memory
This week's roundup of Good Reads includes a newly discovered masterpiece, a new approach to save disappearing languages, how spying on foreigners could hurt the US economy, a tale of arriving to the United States on a tire, and how Google has become a 'friend.'
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The irony here is that PRISM is effective because American companies dominate information technology. By snooping around in their servers, could the government have ruined the companies’ competitive edge – and its own?Skip to next paragraph
Chris Gaylord is the Monitor's Innovation Editor. He loves gadgets, history, design, and curious readers like you.
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From a floating tire to the Ivy League
“The first time he arrived in the United States, three-year-old Juan Cerda ... was on a truck tire floating across the Rio Grande river,” writes Yanan Wang in the Yale Daily News. “All in all, Cerda has spent just four years of his life in Mexico – three as a toddler, and one as a child waiting for his mother to receive cancer treatment. But for almost all of the 16 years he has lived in America, Cerda has had no permission to live in this country.”
Mr. Cerda now attends Yale University as part of the class of 2015. Ms. Wang’s article, titled “Undocumented but Unafraid,” tracks Cerda’s remarkable journey from that floating tire to the Ivy League, and where he wants to head next.
Our friend, the Google search engine
Google is not making us dumber – the truth is much stranger than that, says Clive Thompson in Slate. Mr. Thompson argues that humans have never been good at holding on to details. A study from 1990 – well before the Web supposedly rotted our brains – asked participants to read and recall several sentences. About an hour later, the subjects could pretty much recite the lines verbatim. When asked again four days later, however, most of them remembered the gist of each sentence, but could not recall the specific wording. There is one exception, though: When people are passionate about a subject, they retain far more details.
Now, research suggests that in order to compensate for our leaky brains, many people start creating networks of shared memory between spouses, colleagues, and friends. “They’re passionate about subject X; you’re passionate about subject Y,” writes Thompson. “So you each begin to subconsciously delegate the task of remembering that stuff to the other, treating one’s partners like a notepad or encyclopedia, and they do the reverse.” You remember our bank account numbers and how to program the TiVo; I’ll remember our relatives’ birthdays and where we keep the spare light bulbs.
In other words, a search engine isn’t a modern crutch, he says. It’s a close friend that just happens to be passionate about everything.