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Friday, January 1, 2016

How A Nation Of Tech Copycats Transformed Into A Hub For Innovation, by Clive Thompson, Wired

Ten years ago, high tech observers complained that the nation didn’t have enough bold innovators. There were, of course, wildly profi­table high tech firms, but they rarely took creative risks and mostly just mimicked Silicon Valley: Baidu was a replica of Google, Tencent a copy of Yahoo, JD a version of Amazon. Young Chinese coders had programming chops that were second to none, but they lacked the drive of a Mark Zucker­berg or Steve Jobs. The West Coast mantra—fail fast, fail often, the better to find a hit product—seemed alien, even dangerous, to youths schooled in an educational system that focused on rote memorization and punished mistakes. Graduates craved jobs at big, solid firms. The goal was stability: Urban China had only recently emerged from decades of poverty, and much of the countryside was still waiting its turn to do so. Better to keep your head down and stay safe.

That attitude is vanishing now. It’s been swept aside by a surge in prosperity, bringing with it a new level of confi­dence and boldness in the country’s young urban techies. In 2000, barely 4 percent of China was middle-class—meaning with an income ranging from $9,000 to $34,000—but by 2012 fully two-thirds had climbed into that bracket. In the same time frame, higher education soared sevenfold: 7 million graduated college this year. The result is a generation both creative and comfortable with risk-taking. “We’re seeing people in their early twenties starting companies—people just out of school, and there are even some dropouts,” says Kai-Fu Lee, a Chinese venture capitalist and veteran of Apple, Microsoft, and Google, who has spent the past decade crisscrossing the nation, helping youths start firms. Now major cities are crowded with ambitious inventors and entrepreneurs, flocking into software accelerators and hackerspaces. They no longer want jobs at Google or Apple; like their counterparts in San Francisco, they want to build the next Google or Apple.

Brandenburg’s Dream, by Derek Walmsley, London Review of Books

Before recording devices were invented, music was preserved by oral traditions, contained in scores or listened to in real time; perhaps music could become something like a folk form again, with musicians liberated from financial obligation and listeners from ownership, allowing music to be part of a common cultural fabric. In an abrupt coda, Witt realises that his personal archive is ‘just an agglomeration of slowly demagnetising junk’; he goes to a data destruction company to get nails fired into his hard drives, ridding himself of tens of thousands of mp3s. The ones and zeros that make up the digital music revolution are hard to preserve, but also hard to kill and, as the music industry has discovered to its cost, hard to contain.

All Stories Are The Same, by John Yorke, The Atlantic

A ship lands on an alien shore and a young man, desperate to prove himself, is tasked with befriending the inhabitants and extracting their secrets. Enchanted by their way of life, he falls in love with a local girl and starts to distrust his masters. Discovering their man has gone native, they in turn resolve to destroy both him and the native population once and for all.

Avatar or Pocahontas? As stories they’re almost identical. Some have even accused James Cameron of stealing the Native American myth. But it’s both simpler and more complex than that, for the underlying structure is common not only to these two tales, but to all of them.

‘Suspicious Minds,’ By Rob Brotherton, by Adrian Chen, New York Times

For all the talk of Donald Trump’s unpresidential behavior, the Republican enfant terrible does share one notable trait with that paragon of presidentiality, George Washington: a fondness for conspiracy theories. Washington once wrote in a letter that he believed an Illuminati conspiracy was at work in America, while Trump is the figurehead of the birther movement, which claims Barack Obama is not a natural-born American citizen. The psychologist and science journalist Rob Brotherton’s new book, “Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy ­Theories,” helps explain why someone with such seemingly outlandish views can gain widespread public support. It turns out we are all conspiracy theorists.

Secondhand, by Sam Martone