Soccer’s Lost Boys

As the World Cup kicked off this week in South Africa, Cur­rent TV aired the lat­est episode of Van­guard called “Soccer’s Lost Boys.” It’s a sober­ing piece of inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism that digs into the dark side of the world’s most pop­u­lar game. Mov­ing from Ghana to Moroc­co to even­tu­al­ly Paris, Van­guard cor­re­spon­dent Mar­i­ana van Zeller details how preda­to­ry agents sell African teenagers on the hope of land­ing big con­tracts with elite Euro­pean teams. The next thing they know, the young play­ers find them­selves des­ti­tute and strand­ed in an unfa­mil­iar coun­try, some­times home­less and forced into pros­ti­tu­tion, and mean­while their fam­i­lies get fleeced of their life sav­ings. It’s a grim real­i­ty tak­ing place in the shad­ow of the sport’s show­case event. Run­time is 45 min­utes.

Thanks to Rob for send­ing this along. We have added Cur­rent to our list of Intel­li­gent Video Sites.

Heartless: The Story of the Tin Man

In 1900, L. Frank Baum wrote The Won­der­ful Wiz­ard of Oz, which went on to become one of the most beloved chil­dren’s books of all time, reprint­ed and rein­vent­ed in a myr­i­ad stage plays, films, TV series, musi­cals and oth­er adap­ta­tions. But Baum’s orig­i­nal tale fea­tured a lit­tle-known back­sto­ry about the Tin Woods­man – a moral­i­ty tale about a man who gets so caught up in his work that he los­es sight of what real­ly mat­ters in life.

Direc­tor Bri­an McCormick decid­ed to cap­ture this poet­ic tale and the hid­den love sto­ry about a sim­ple woods­man and a beau­ti­ful maid­en in Heart­less: The Sto­ry of the Tin Man — an art­ful­ly shot short film, view­able for free online.

Addi­tion­al behind-the-scenes footage reveals the pro­duc­tion process and metic­u­lous crafts­man­ship of the film’s art direc­tion, sound design and cin­e­matog­ra­phy.

Maria Popo­va is the founder and edi­tor in chief of Brain Pick­ings, a curat­ed inven­to­ry of eclec­tic inter­est­ing­ness and indis­crim­i­nate curios­i­ty. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Mag­a­zine, Big­Think and Huff­in­g­ton Post, and spends too much time curat­ing inter­est­ing­ness on Twit­ter.

Johnny Cash Remembered with 1,000+ Drawings

Give cred­it to The John­ny Cash Project. They took took hun­dreds of draw­ings, each done by a dif­fer­ent per­son, then stitched them togeth­er to pro­duce a video (above) that accom­pa­nies the title track of John­ny Cash’s last album, Ain’t No Grave. H/T to men­talfloss

Crime and Punishment: Free AudioBook and eBook

In 1865, Fyo­dor Dos­to­evsky found him­self in a deep hole. He had gam­bled away his last sav­ings and wracked up big debts. He also had to sup­port the fam­i­ly of his recent­ly deceased broth­er. Look­ing to make some quick mon­ey, Dos­to­evsky asked Mikhail Katkov, pub­lish­er of The Russ­ian Mes­sen­ger, for an advance. Then he began writ­ing in earnest a novel­la that soon sprawled into a grand nov­el. The first part of Crime and Pun­ish­ment would appear in The Russ­ian Mes­sen­ger in Jan­u­ary 1866; the sec­ond part in Decem­ber of that same year. Like The Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov (Dos­to­evsky’s oth­er major work), Crime and Pun­ish­ment probes the dark side of human psy­chol­o­gy and asks some hard exis­ten­tial ques­tions. Niet­zsche would lat­er call Dos­to­evsky “the only psy­chol­o­gist from whom I have some­thing to learn: he belongs to the hap­pi­est wind­falls of my life, hap­pi­er even than the dis­cov­ery of Stend­hal.” One of the mas­ter­pieces of the Russ­ian lit­er­ary tra­di­tion, Crime and Pun­ish­ment is now avail­able as a free audio book thanks to Lit2Go. You can down­load the nov­el in full via iTunes, or as mp3s via the Lit2Go web site. Mean­while, if you’re look­ing for a free etext ver­sion of the nov­el, you can find it in the fol­low­ing for­mats: Google Mobile – Kin­dle – Feed­booksePub.

Note: Crime and Pun­ish­ment appears in our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks col­lec­tions.

Learn how you can get a Free Audio Book (no strings attached) from here.

Brontë Sisters Power Dolls

On the lighter side…

On a more seri­ous note, if you want some free audio books by the Bron­të’s (includ­ing Wuther­ing Heights and Jane Eyre), sim­ply find them in our col­lec­tion of Free Audio Books.

Thanks to @wesalwan for send­ing our way.

The Search For Hidden Dimensions

An impor­tant Amer­i­can string the­o­rist, Bri­an Greene has­n’t shied away from bring­ing heady the­o­ret­i­cal physics to the broad­er pub­lic. His 1999 best­selling book, The Ele­gant Uni­verse, intro­duced string the­o­ry to non spe­cial­ists, and it was lat­er adapt­ed into a three hour, Emmy award-win­ning tele­vi­sion series by NOVA. (You can buy it on DVD, or sim­ply watch it online here.) Now, on RichardDawkins.Net, Greene hosts a short video that takes us into the spec­u­la­tive world of “hid­den dimen­sions.” If borne out, these the­o­ries could entire­ly reframe our under­stand­ing of the Big Bang and where our world fits into the larg­er cos­mos. You can find more videos along these lines on, and also on his relat­ed YouTube Chan­nel (which hap­pens to appear in our col­lec­tion of Intel­li­gent YouTube Chan­nels).

Cognitive Consequences: A Conversation with Nicholas Carr

In 2008, writer Nicholas Carr pub­lished an essay in The Atlantic with the provoca­tive head­line, “Is Google Mak­ing Us Stu­pid?” Carr’s the­sis was that the Inter­net, for all its imme­di­ate and obvi­ous ben­e­fits, was also doing us some harm. It was rob­bing us of our abil­i­ty to read deeply and con­cen­trate on long texts.

“Immers­ing myself in a book or a lengthy arti­cle used to be easy,” Carr wrote. “My mind would get caught up in the nar­ra­tive or the turns of the argu­ment, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretch­es of prose. That’s rarely the case any­more. Now my con­cen­tra­tion often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fid­gety, lose the thread, begin look­ing for some­thing else to do.” The habits acquired read­ing hyper­text – skim­ming and skip­ping rapid­ly from one item to the next – stayed with Carr even when he was away from his com­put­er. “Once I was a scu­ba div­er in a sea of words,” he wrote. “Now I zip along the sur­face like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

Carr found that many peo­ple he knew — “lit­er­ary types, most of them” — were notic­ing the same thing. Fre­quent use of the Net seemed to weak­en one’s capac­i­ty for read­ing long, ful­ly devel­oped texts. Carr began to wor­ry about the con­se­quences. If we lose our abil­i­ty to read deeply, might we also lose our abil­i­ty to think deeply?

Two years lat­er Carr is back with a book, The Shal­lows: What the Inter­net is Doing to Our Brains, which explores that ques­tion in depth. To under­stand what is going on, he writes, we have to look beyond the con­tent. “Media work their mag­ic, or their mis­chief, on the ner­vous sys­tem itself,” Carr writes. “Our focus on a medium’s con­tent can blind us to these deep effects. We’re too busy being daz­zled or dis­turbed by the pro­gram­ming to notice what’s going on inside our heads.”

In The Shal­lows, Carr describes numer­ous sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies that lend sup­port to his claim that Web surf­ing has adverse cog­ni­tive con­se­quences. For exam­ple, research has shown that read­ers of hyper­text have more dif­fi­cul­ty under­stand­ing and remem­ber­ing what they have read than read­ers of tra­di­tion­al, “lin­ear” text. In mul­ti­ple stud­ies, the dis­trac­tion of hyper­links was shown to hin­der com­pre­hen­sion.

Oth­er stud­ies have tracked the move­ment of read­ers’ eyes and revealed that Web read­ers typ­i­cal­ly do not read line-by-line, the way they would if they were read­ing a print­ed text. Instead, their eyes trace out a pat­tern resem­bling the let­ter F. The eyes typ­i­cal­ly begin by fol­low­ing a few lines all the way across, then skim part-way across a few more lines before drift­ing down­ward along the left-hand side of the text. Jakob Nielsen, a Dan­ish Web usabil­i­ty expert who con­duct­ed some of the ear­ly eye-track­ing stud­ies, puts it suc­cinct­ly: “How do users read on the web? They don’t.”

The pat­terns of thought that go along with read­ing habits such as these – super­fi­cial, scat­tered, per­pet­u­al­ly dis­tract­ed – can have seri­ous con­se­quences even when we’re not online, argues Carr. He cites recent brain research show­ing that neur­al con­nec­tions are sig­nif­i­cant­ly refig­ured, or “re-mapped,” as a con­se­quence of men­tal expe­ri­ence – espe­cial­ly repet­i­tive expe­ri­ence. Carr quotes a blog entry writ­ten by neu­ro­sci­en­tist Michael Merzenich: “When cul­ture dri­ves changes in the ways that we engage our brains, it cre­ates DIFFERENT brains.”

The Shal­lows, like Carr’s ear­li­er mag­a­zine arti­cle, has sparked con­sid­er­able pub­lic debate – much of it polar­ized. As the book came out last week, The New York Times began a series, “Your Brain on Com­put­ers,” exam­in­ing some of the issues raised by Carr. On Fri­day, Har­vard psy­chol­o­gist and cog­ni­tive sci­en­tist Steven Pinker entered the fray. “Expe­ri­ence does not revamp the basic infor­ma­tion-pro­cess­ing capac­i­ties of the brain,” Pinker wrote in the Times. “Far from mak­ing us stu­pid, these tech­nolo­gies are the only things that will keep us smart.”

Carr issued a response, argu­ing that Pinker was “too quick to dis­miss people’s con­cerns over the Internet’s influ­ence on their intel­lec­tu­al lives.” He quot­ed the work of anoth­er psy­chol­o­gist: “As Patri­cia Green­field, the UCLA devel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist, wrote in a Sci­ence arti­cle last year, research sug­gests that our grow­ing use of screen-based media is weak­en­ing our ‘high­er-order cog­ni­tive process­es,’ includ­ing ‘abstract vocab­u­lary, mind­ful­ness, reflec­tion, induc­tive prob­lem solv­ing, crit­i­cal think­ing, and imag­i­na­tion.’”

Wher­ev­er one stands in the debate, Carr has chal­lenged us to do pre­cise­ly what he says is becom­ing more dif­fi­cult to do: pause, reflect, and med­i­tate on the mat­ter. We spoke with Carr by email.

Open Cul­ture: When did you first begin to sus­pect that the Inter­net was chang­ing the way you think?

Nicholas Carr: It was some­time dur­ing 2007. I had been using the Net, with increas­ing inten­si­ty, for more than a decade, and it began to dawn on me that there might be a con­nec­tion between all the time I spend click­ing links and exchang­ing emails and the ero­sion of my abil­i­ty to con­cen­trate. When I sat down to read a book, or just to think, I found it hard to main­tain my focus – my mind want­ed to keep click­ing and surf­ing.

Open Cul­ture: There is some­thing addic­tive – almost like slot machines – about surf­ing the Web, isn’t there?

Nicholas Carr: I’m not sure whether it ris­es to the lev­el of addic­tion, but the web cer­tain­ly tends to inspire com­pul­sive behav­ior. There are a few rea­sons for that, but one of the big ones is that human beings crave new infor­ma­tion. So if we’re giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to get a new bit of infor­ma­tion – and it doesn’t much mat­ter whether it’s triv­ial or impor­tant – we’ll go for it. Since on the Web new infor­ma­tion is always just a click away, it becomes hard to break free of the flow. We keep click­ing, keep check­ing email, keep Googling, and so on. That desire for new stuff is ampli­fied by the fact that a lot of the infor­ma­tion flow­ing through our com­put­ers or our cell phones these days has a social com­po­nent – it takes the form of mes­sages or updates from peo­ple we know. If we dis­con­nect, we can feel like we’re miss­ing out on the con­ver­sa­tion, and because we’re social beings that feel­ing can be unen­durable.

Open Cul­ture: Your essay in The Atlantic caused quite a stir. There’s even a long Wikipedia page on it, which is unusu­al for a mag­a­zine arti­cle. Were you sur­prised by the reac­tion?

Nicholas Carr: The Wikipedia arti­cle is quite good, I think. But, yes, I was sur­prised. I had seen the arti­cle as a rather mod­est per­son­al essay, but it clear­ly struck a chord. I received notes from scores of peo­ple say­ing that they were hav­ing sim­i­lar expe­ri­ences to my own and were very con­cerned about the Net’s influ­ence. Of course, I also received quite a few mes­sages say­ing I was full of baloney.

Open Cul­ture: It’s been almost two years since the arti­cle appeared. Since then, what have you learned about how the Inter­net is affect­ing our brains?

Nicholas Carr: The reac­tion to the piece led me to look beyond the per­son­al anec­do­tal, to see what sci­ence and his­to­ry might tell us about the cog­ni­tive and cul­tur­al effects of a pop­u­lar medi­um like the Inter­net. A lot of what I dis­cov­ered was dis­turb­ing. Many stud­ies sug­gest that the Net, and screen-based tech­nolo­gies in gen­er­al, encour­ages a dis­tract­ed way of think­ing that impedes com­pre­hen­sion and learn­ing, even as it gives us access to a huge amount of valu­able infor­ma­tion. What I also found is that, to under­stand the Net’s influ­ence, you real­ly have to look at it in the con­text of technology’s effects on the intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry of humankind, going all the way back to the devel­op­ment of maps and devices for time­keep­ing. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry.

Open Cul­ture: Your new book, The Shal­lows, seems to have sparked more dis­cus­sion. Last week The New York Times pub­lished a series of sto­ries, with head­lines like “Hooked on Gad­gets, and Pay­ing a Men­tal Price,” “An Ugly Toll of Tech­nol­o­gy – Impa­tience and For­get­ful­ness,” and “More Amer­i­cans Sense a Down­side to an Always Plugged-In Exis­tence.” Those head­lines could have come straight from your book. Do you think peo­ple are becom­ing more ready to lis­ten to your argu­ment?

Nicholas Carr: I think they are. The Web is now about 20 years old. Up until recent­ly, we’ve been daz­zled by its rich­es and con­ve­niences – for good rea­son. Now, though, I think we’re becom­ing more aware of the costs that go along with the ben­e­fits, of what we lose when we spend so much time star­ing into screens. I sense that peo­ple, or at least some peo­ple, are begin­ning to sense the lim­its of online life. They’re crav­ing to be more in con­trol of their atten­tion and their time.

Open Cul­ture: In the book you quote Mar­shall McLuhan, who famous­ly wrote that the “medi­um is the mes­sage.” and that the con­tent served up by a medi­um is mere­ly “the juicy piece of meat car­ried by the bur­glar to dis­tract the watch­dog of the mind.” How does this relate to what’s hap­pen­ing with the web?

Nicholas Carr: It’s nat­ur­al that, when a new medi­um comes along, we focus on the con­tent it pro­vides us – the shows on the TV and radio, the sto­ries in news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines – and don’t pay much heed to its deep­er effects on cog­ni­tion and cul­ture. Pop­u­lar media tend to be very good at seduc­ing “the watch­dog of the mind,” as McLuhan put it. McLuhan’s intent was to get the watch­dog to pay atten­tion to what the bur­glar was steal­ing. That’s pret­ty much my intent, too.

Open Cul­ture: What is the bur­glar steal­ing, and how?

Nicholas Carr: Our more atten­tive, soli­tary modes of think­ing – con­tem­pla­tion, reflec­tion, intro­spec­tion, and the like. We’re train­ing our brains to be more adept at skim­ming and scan­ning and surf­ing – and those are cer­tain­ly valu­able ways of think­ing – but we’re neglect­ing our qui­eter modes of thought. And when you don’t exer­cise a habit of mind, you slow­ly begin to lose it.

Open Cul­ture: In the book you write about “neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty.” What is that?

Nicholas Carr: It used to be assumed that the struc­ture of the human brain was fixed by the end of child­hood. But what we’ve learned over the last 40 years is that even the adult human brain is con­stant­ly chang­ing, at a cel­lu­lar lev­el, to adapt to changes in cir­cum­stances and expe­ri­ences. We can assume, there­fore, that the changes in our habits of thought pro­duced by the Net and relat­ed media are also pro­duc­ing actu­al bio­log­i­cal changes in our brain. I argue that that’s like­ly one of the rea­sons why our dis­tract­ed, ner­vous, skim­ming forms of think­ing stay with us even when we turn off our com­put­ers.

Open Cul­ture: In a recent inter­view in The Atlantic, you said, “There seems to be a rede­f­i­n­i­tion of our idea of intel­li­gence.” What did you mean by that?

Nicholas Carr: We used to think of the gath­er­ing of infor­ma­tion as only the first stage of think­ing. The sec­ond and more impor­tant stage was think­ing deeply about the infor­ma­tion we gath­ered, con­nect­ing it to the oth­er infor­ma­tion stored in our heads in order to build per­son­al knowl­edge and even wis­dom. Now, I sense that we’re increas­ing­ly defin­ing intel­li­gence as mere­ly the act of gath­er­ing – as a mat­ter of “access­ing” as much infor­ma­tion as pos­si­ble. We’re begin­ning to lose sight of the deep think­ing stage, which requires con­cen­tra­tion, qui­et, and a degree of soli­tude.

Open Cul­ture: Some peo­ple have sug­gest­ed we’re mov­ing inex­orably toward a kind of glob­al intel­li­gence, or “hive mind,” in which indi­vid­ual human minds are the work­er bees. Giv­en the ben­e­fits of col­lec­tiviza­tion, would that be a bad thing? Per­haps our indi­vid­ual minds are being re-wired for a greater col­lec­tive intel­li­gence.

Nicholas Carr: What’s inter­est­ing about our minds, I believe, is what’s least bee-like about them. I’m not sure what “col­lec­tive intel­li­gence” means, but if I were to define it I’d say it’s syn­ony­mous with “cul­ture.” And cul­ture emanates from many indi­vid­ual minds, work­ing alone or in con­cert.

Open Cul­ture: Speak­ing of cul­ture, some of your crit­ics have sug­gest­ed that behind your argu­ment lies a nos­tal­gia for the days when the lit­er­ary intel­li­gentsia were the cul­tur­al elite. In response to your Atlantic essay, Clary Shirky wrote, “Hav­ing lost its actu­al cen­tral­i­ty some time ago, the lit­er­ary world is now los­ing its nor­ma­tive hold on cul­ture as well. The threat isn’t that peo­ple will stop read­ing War and Peace. That day is long since past. The threat is that peo­ple will stop gen­u­flect­ing to the idea of read­ing War and Peace.” How do you respond to that?

Nicholas Carr: I would be lying if I didn’t con­fess to being sad­dened by the much-reduced place of lit­er­a­ture and lit­er­ary writ­ers in our cul­ture. I per­son­al­ly see great works of lit­er­a­ture – includ­ing, yes, Tolstoy’s – as being not only among the most pro­found achieve­ments of human cul­ture but also deeply inspir­ing and enlight­en­ing on a per­son­al lev­el. Shirky is a very smart man, but I find his com­ments about lit­er­a­ture in gen­er­al and Tol­stoy in par­tic­u­lar to be expres­sions of an appar­ent­ly fash­ion­able form of philis­tin­ism. I have yet to dis­cov­er any­thing on the Web that has the emo­tion­al and intel­lec­tu­al res­o­nance of, say, Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure or the poems of Robert Frost.

Open Cul­ture: If we are sac­ri­fic­ing our reflec­tive, con­tem­pla­tive fac­ul­ties, what do you think will be the long-term con­se­quences, both for the qual­i­ty of indi­vid­ual lives and for soci­ety at large?

Nicholas Carr: Well, as the title of my book makes pret­ty clear, I think we’re shift­ing toward shal­low­er, less inter­est­ing intel­lec­tu­al lives and, more gen­er­al­ly, a shal­low­er cul­ture. That doesn’t mean we’re get­ting dumb­er or stu­pid­er. It means that the empha­sis of our thought is shift­ing away from the more con­tem­pla­tive and soli­tary modes of thought that I believe give rich­ness and dis­tinc­tive­ness to our thoughts and even our selves. I ful­ly under­stand that there are plen­ty of oth­er peo­ple who don’t val­ue the qui­eter modes of thought and will hence dis­miss my con­cerns, but I think there are many oth­er peo­ple who, like me, sense a hol­low­ing out of intel­lec­tu­al life.

Open Cul­ture: Your book is basi­cal­ly descrip­tive, rather than pre­scrip­tive. You don’t offer any solu­tions. Are you pes­simistic?

Nicholas Carr: I’m not opti­mistic. But what I’ve tried to do in The Shal­lows is to describe care­ful­ly what I believe is going on, in hopes that it will raise people’s aware­ness. Rais­ing aware­ness is the most valu­able pre­scrip­tion I can offer as a writer.

Open Cul­ture: In your own life, are you doing any­thing to com­bat the prob­lems you describe?

Nicholas Carr: I’m try­ing to cut back on my use of the Net. In order to regain the con­cen­tra­tion nec­es­sary to write my book, I cur­tailed my use of e‑mail, didn’t use my cell phone, dropped my Face­book and Twit­ter accounts, and moth­balled my blog. It helped enor­mous­ly. My think­ing became much calmer and more focused. I have to con­fess, though, that I’ve been drift­ing back to my old habits. I haven’t giv­en up the fight, though.

This arti­cle was con­tributed by Mike Springer, a jour­nal­ist in Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts.

Pho­to by Joanie Simon.

The Life You Can Save in 3 Minutes, by Peter Singer

A prac­ti­tion­er of applied ethics, Peter Singer helped launch the ani­mal rights move­ment dur­ing the 1970s, then lat­er took a con­tro­ver­sial stance on euthana­sia. These days, the Prince­ton philoso­pher is work­ing on less con­tentious issues. His 2009 book is called The Life You Can Save: Act­ing Now to End World Pover­ty, and the core argu­ment gets nice­ly dis­tilled by the three minute video above. Along the way, Singer rais­es some basic but essen­tial ques­tions about how much we val­ue human lives, both emo­tion­al­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly. Is it worth a pair of shoes to save the life of a child? Many would say unequiv­o­cal­ly yes if asked the ques­tion. But every day we make choic­es to the con­trary.  And that’s what Singer wants to undo. Watch the video. Read the short book. And vis­it Singer’s web site ( and final­ly find out where you can make a dona­tion that will save a young life today.

Note: You can lis­ten to a 2009 inter­view with Singer where he talks about how small sac­ri­fices can make big dif­fer­ences, and why we should make them (Down­load the MP3 here).

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.