When we launched Culture Briefing two years ago, we wanted to “chart a course through the complexity of our pluralistic age by drawing attention to conversations that help us see the world we live in more clearly.” This week we look back on these two years before Culture Briefing takes a summer break.
Reading that statement now, two things stick out. The first is the importance of seeing, captured in our desire to “help us see the world we live in more clearly.” Behind this is a basic insight about the necessity of vision for wise action. We can only choose, as the writer Iris Murdoch put it, within the world we can see.
But seeing clearly can be incredibly difficult. Much of what we think we see within our contemporary culture becomes hazy or opaque upon closer inspection. Problems often turn out to be more (or sometimes less) complex than we thought, and all too often the sources we depend upon to help us see prove inadequate.
Because of this, our other commitment has been to “draw your attention to conversations.” At times, we highlight particular arguments (sometimes within the academy) that we think our readers should know something about. Other times, we host a conversation between alternative positions on a matter of public concern. Still other times, we highlight and recommend a particularly useful way of addressing a problem many of us face. In all this, the reason to point to conversations rather than conclusions is to resist the temptation to let our minds rest too easily upon half-baked intuitions and generically inspiring cliches.
This week we take a look back a few of our favorite pieces from the first 100 volumes of Culture Briefing. We do so by recommending volumes in three categories—what we call our “Prom Kings (or Queens)”; our “Dark Horses;” and, finally, our “Unsung Heroes.” We also want to hear from you going forward, and would be grateful if you would take three minutes to fill out this survey in order to help us improve Culture Briefing during our summer hiatus.
The Prom Kings (or Queens)
The three volumes that seemed to generate the most significant response were Vol. 88: On Loneliness and Addictive Technology, Vol. 71: On Politics and Neighborliness, and Vol. 55: On Race, Violence, and Public Discourse. On some level, we’re not surprised to know these pieces were widely read. The fact that our devices are changing not only the shape of social life but, in fact, our very selves, is hard to deny. Nor can we deny the rancor and widespread sense of futility marking our national political culture. And, of course, the persistence of racial injustice in American life deserves our sustained attention in a time and place with so many occasions for misunderstanding and abuse.
The Dark Horses
Over our first 100 volumes, we’ve sometimes been surprised by the strength of reaction to some of our writing. For example, we didn’t realize that so many folks would be interested to read Vol. 42: On Giving up Email.” Nor did we think that the review of recent scholarship on shifts in the labor market—published as Vol. 48: What is a Good Job?—would prove to be so popular. And we could not have seen that our two pieces on the Universal Basic Income would be so enthusiastically picked up by the pro-UBI Twitterati.
The Unsung Heroes
Judging by feedback and the web analytics at our disposal, not all of our pieces landed as we’d hoped. For example, the response to Vol. 26 on the concept of “the Anthropocene” suggests most people are not too interested in the blurring of the line between “natural” and “artificial” features of the world. But, we still think they (you) should be! Likewise, we think our piece on the Flint water crisis, On Politics and Water, is important to reconsider from time to time, if for no other reason than to recognize the myriad ways our lives are sustained by infrastructures that are frequently invisible to us. And finally, in our judgment, our piece on the use of predictive algorithms in law enforcement deserves sustained attention from those interested in the ways new innovations may be claiming to improve social life, while not fully reckoning with the facts of implicit bias and structural inequities.
The Shameless Request for Feedback
As ever, we are grateful to you, our readers, for attending to our work and, from time to time, providing us with feedback. So grateful, in fact, that we’d like more. Before Culture Briefing takes a break for the summer, could you please take 3 minutes to fill out this brief survey to help us improve?
Philip Lorish & Sam Speers