George Orwell Predicted Cameras Would Watch Us in Our Homes; He Never Imagined We’d Gladly Buy and Install Them Ourselves

Normalization—the main­stream­ing of peo­ple and ideas pre­vi­ous­ly ban­ished from pub­lic life for good reason—has become the oper­a­tive descrip­tion of a mas­sive soci­etal shift toward some­thing awful. Whether it’s puff pieces on neo-Nazis in major nation­al news­pa­pers or elect­ed lead­ers who are also doc­u­ment­ed sex­u­al preda­tors, a good deal of work goes into mak­ing the pre­vi­ous­ly unthink­able seem mun­dane or appeal­ing.

I try not to imag­ine too often where these things might lead, but one pre­vi­ous­ly unthink­able sce­nario, the open­ly pub­lic mass sur­veil­lance appa­ra­tus of George Orwell’s 1984 has pret­ty much arrived, and has been thor­ough­ly nor­mal­ized and become both mun­dane and appeal­ing. Net­worked cam­eras and micro­phones are installed through­out mil­lions of homes, and mil­lions of us car­ry them with us wher­ev­er we go. The twist is that we are the ones who installed them.

As com­ic Kei­th Low­ell Jensen remarked on Twit­ter a few years ago, “What Orwell failed to pre­dict is that we’d buy the cam­eras our­selves, and that our biggest fear would be that nobody was watch­ing.” By appeal­ing to our basic human need for con­nec­tion, to van­i­ty, the desire for recog­ni­tion, and the seem­ing­ly instinc­tu­al dri­ve for con­ve­nience, tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies have per­suad­ed mil­lions of peo­ple to active­ly sur­veille them­selves and each oth­er. They inces­sant­ly gath­er our data, as Tim Wu shows in The Atten­tion Mer­chants, and as a byprod­uct have pro­vid­ed access to our pri­vate spaces to gov­ern­ment agents and who-knows-who-else.

Com­put­ers, smart­phones, and “smart” devices can near­ly all be hacked or com­man­deered. For­mer direc­tor of nation­al intel­li­gence James Clap­per report­ed as much last year, telling the U.S. Sen­ate that intel­li­gence agen­cies might make extend­ed use of con­sumer devices for gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance. Web­cams and “oth­er inter­net-con­nect­ed cam­eras,” writes Eric Limer at Pop­u­lar Mechan­ics, “such as secu­ri­ty cams and high-tech baby mon­i­tors, are… noto­ri­ous­ly inse­cure.” James Comey and Mark Zucker­berg both cov­er the cam­eras on their com­put­ers with tape.

The prob­lem is far from lim­it­ed to cam­eras. “Any device that can respond to voice com­mands is, by its very nature, lis­ten­ing to you all the time.” Although we are assured that those devices only hear cer­tain trig­ger words “the micro­phone is def­i­nite­ly on regard­less” and “the extent to which this sort of audio is saved or shared is unclear.” (Record­ings on an Ama­zon Echo are pend­ing use as evi­dence in a mur­der tri­al in Arkansas.) Devices like head­phones have even been turned into micro­phones, Limer notes, which means that speak­ers could be as well, and “Lipread­ing soft­ware is only get­ting more and more impres­sive.”

I type these words on a Siri-enabled Mac, an iPad lies near­by and an iPhone in my pock­et… I won’t deny the appeal—or, for  many, the neces­si­ty of con­nec­tiv­i­ty. The always-on vari­ety, with mul­ti­ple devices respon­si­ble for con­trol­ling greater aspects of our lives may not be jus­ti­fi­able. Nonethe­less, 2017 could “final­ly be the year of the smart home.” Sales of the iPhone X may not meet Apple’s expec­ta­tions. But that could have more to do with price or poor reviews than with the creepy new facial recog­ni­tion technology—a fea­ture like­ly to remain part of lat­er designs, and one that makes users much less like­ly to cov­er or oth­er­wise dis­able their cam­eras.

The thing is, we most­ly know this, at least abstract­ly. Bland bul­let­ed how-to guides make the prob­lem seem so ordi­nary that it begins not to seem like a seri­ous prob­lem at all. As an indi­ca­tion of how mun­dane inse­cure net­worked tech­nol­o­gy has become in the con­sumer mar­ket, major pub­li­ca­tions rou­tine­ly run arti­cles offer­ing help­ful tips on how “stop your smart gad­gets from ‘spy­ing’ on you” and “how to keep your smart TV from spy­ing on you.” Your TV may be watch­ing you. Your smart­phone may be watch­ing you. Your refrig­er­a­tor may be watch­ing you. Your ther­mo­stat is most def­i­nite­ly watch­ing you.

Yes, the sit­u­a­tion isn’t strict­ly Orwellian: Oceana’s con­stant­ly sur­veilled cit­i­zens did not com­par­i­son shop, pur­chase, and cus­tomize their own devices vol­un­tar­i­ly. (It’s not strict­ly Fou­cauldian either, but has its close resem­blances.) Yet in prop­er Orwellian dou­ble­s­peak, “spy­ing” might have a very flex­i­ble def­i­n­i­tion depend­ing on who is on the oth­er end. We might stop “spy­ing” by enabling or dis­abling cer­tain fea­tures, but we might not stop “spy­ing,” if you know what I mean.

So who is watch­ing? CIA doc­u­ments released by a cer­tain unsa­vory orga­ni­za­tion show that the Agency might be, as the BBC seg­ment at the top reports. As might any num­ber of oth­er inter­est­ed par­ties from data-hoard­ing cor­po­rate bots to tech-savvy voyeurs look­ing to get off on your can­did moments. We might assume that some­one could have access at any time, even if we use the pri­va­cy con­trols. That so many peo­ple have become depen­dent on their devices, and will increas­ing­ly become so in the future, makes the ques­tion of what to do about it a trick­i­er propo­si­tion.

via Red­dit

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read the CIA’s Sim­ple Sab­o­tage Field Man­u­al: A Time­less, Kafkaesque Guide to Sub­vert­ing Any Orga­ni­za­tion with “Pur­pose­ful Stu­pid­i­ty” (1944)

The Exis­ten­tial­ism Files: How the FBI Tar­get­ed Camus, and Then Sartre After the JFK Assas­si­na­tion

Lyn­da Bar­ry on How the Smart­phone Is Endan­ger­ing Three Ingre­di­ents of Cre­ativ­i­ty: Lone­li­ness, Uncer­tain­ty & Bore­dom

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Lou Reed Sings “Sweet Jane” Live, Julian Schnabel Films It (2006)

“Lou Reed’s Berlin is a dis­as­ter, tak­ing the lis­ten­er into a dis­tort­ed and degen­er­ate demi­monde of para­noia, schiz­o­phre­nia, degra­da­tion, pill-induced vio­lence and sui­cide,” wrote Rolling Stone’s Stephen Davis in 1973, adding that “there are cer­tain records that are so patent­ly offen­sive that one wish­es to take some kind of phys­i­cal vengeance on the artists that per­pe­trate them.” Could this “last shot at a once-promis­ing career,” as Davis described it, real­ly have come from the one­time leader of as influ­en­tial a band as the Vel­vet Under­ground — from the man who could, just three years ear­li­er, have writ­ten a song like “Sweet Jane”?

Yet Lou Reed sur­vived Berlin’s drub­bing, and indeed spent the next forty years ful­fill­ing his promise, to the very end draw­ing the occa­sion­al round of pans (most resound­ing­ly for Lulu, his 2011 col­lab­o­ra­tion with Metal­li­ca) that ver­i­fied his artis­tic vital­i­ty. By the 21st cen­tu­ry, crit­i­cal opin­ion had come around on Berlin, and in 2003 even Rolling Stone put it on its list of the 500 great­est albums of all time.

Three years lat­er, Reed took the then-33-year-old rock-opera album on tour, play­ing it live with a 30-piece band and twelve cho­ris­ters. Painter-film­mak­er Julian Schn­abel designed the tour and shot a doc­u­men­tary of five nights of its per­for­mances in Brook­lyn, releas­ing it in 2008 as Lou Reed Berlin.

In the clip above, you can see the very last song of the show, played dur­ing the film’s clos­ing cred­its. It isn’t “Sad Song,” which draws the cur­tain over Berlin, but the last of a three-part encore that ends with none oth­er than “Sweet Jane.” Hav­ing first appeared on the Vel­vet Under­ground’s 1970 album Loaded (#110 on the Rolling Stone list to Berlin’s #344), the song became a favorite in Reed’s live per­for­mances in the decades there­after, an evo­ca­tion of a par­tic­u­lar cre­ative era in a career that encom­passed so many. “Good­bye, Lou,” Davis said to Reed at the end of his Berlin review, but for that album, and even more so for the man who made it, the show had only just begun.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mar­tin Scors­ese Cap­tures Lev­on Helm and The Band Per­form­ing “The Weight” in The Last Waltz

Jef­fer­son Air­plane Plays on a New York Rooftop; Jean-Luc Godard Cap­tures It (1968)

Jean-Luc Godard Shoots Mar­i­anne Faith­full Singing “As Tears Go By” (1966)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Listen to Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” in One Streamable Playlist

What­ev­er val­ue one places in “best of” or “great­est” lists, it’s hard to deny they can be vir­tu­oso exer­cis­es in crit­i­cal con­ci­sion. When run­ning through 10, 50, 100 films, albums, nov­els etc. one can’t wan­der through the wild­flow­ers but must make spark­ly, punchy state­ments and move on. Rolling Stone’s writ­ers have excelled at this form, and expand­ed the list size to 500, first releas­ing a book com­pil­ing their “500 Great­est Albums of All Time” in 2003 then fol­low­ing up the next year with the “500 Great­est Songs of All Time,” a spe­cial issue of the mag­a­zine with short blurbs about each selec­tion.

In 2010, the mag­a­zine updat­ed their mas­sive list, com­piled by 162 crit­ics, for a spe­cial dig­i­tal issue, and it now lives on their site with para­graph-length blurbs intact. Each one offers a fun lit­tle nugget of fact or opin­ion about the cho­sen songs. (Tom Pet­ty, learn­ing that The Strokes admit­ted to steal­ing his open­ing riff for “Amer­i­can Girl,” told the mag­a­zine, “I was like, ‘Ok, good for you.’ It doesn’t both­er me.”) There’s hard­ly room to explain the rank­ings or jus­ti­fy inclu­sion. We’re asked to take the Rolling Stone writ­ers’ col­lec­tive word for it.

Maybe it’s a lit­tle dif­fi­cult to argue with a list this big, since it includes a bit of everything—for the pos­si­ble dross, there’s a whole lot of gold. The updat­ed list swapped in 25 new songs and added an intro­duc­tion by Jay‑Z: “A great song has all the key elements—melody; emo­tion; a strong state­ment that becomes part of the lex­i­con; and great pro­duc­tion.” Broad enough cri­te­ria for great, but “great­est”? Put on the Spo­ti­fy playlist above (or access it here) and judge for your­self whether most of those 500 songs in the updat­ed list—472 to be exact—meet the bar.

You can see the orig­i­nal, 2004 list, sans blurbs, at the Inter­net Archive. Num­ber one, Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” (get it?). Num­ber 500, Boston’s “More Than a Feel­ing,” which, well… okay. The updat­ed list gives us Smokey Robinson’s “Shop Around” in last place (don’t wor­ry, Smokey fans, “The Tracks of My Tears” makes it to 50.) Still at num­ber one, nat­u­ral­ly, “Like a Rolling Stone.” Find out which 498 songs sit in-between at the online list here. (Wikipedia has a per­cent­age break­down for both lists of songs by decade.) The mag­a­zine may be up for sale, its jour­nal­is­tic cred­i­bil­i­ty in ques­tion, but for com­pre­hen­sive “best of” lists that keep track of the move­ment of pop­u­lar cul­ture, we should­n’t count them out just yet.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

89 Essen­tial Songs from The Sum­mer of Love: A 50th Anniver­sary Playlist

The His­to­ry of Punk Rock in 200 Tracks: An 11-Hour Playlist Takes You From 1965 to 2016

Stream 935 Songs That Appeared in “The John Peel Fes­tive 50” from 1976 to 2004: The Best Songs of the Year, as Select­ed by the Beloved DJ’s Lis­ten­ers

A Mas­sive 800-Track Playlist of 90s Indie & Alter­na­tive Music, in Chrono­log­i­cal Order

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

The Robots of Your Dystopian Future Are Already Here: Two Chilling Videos Drive It All Home

A year ago, Boston Dynam­ics released a video show­ing its humanoid robot “Atlas” doing, well, rather human things–opening doors, walk­ing through a snowy for­est, hoist­ing card­board box­es, and lift­ing itself off of the ground. Rarely has some­thing so banal seemed so pecu­liar.

What is “Atlas” doing these days? As shown in this new­ly-released video above, it’s jump­ing to new heights, twist­ing in the air, and doing back­flips with uncan­ny ease. Stand­ing six feet tall and weigh­ing 180 pounds, Atlas was designed to take care of mun­dane prob­lems–like assist­ing  emer­gency ser­vices in search and res­cue oper­a­tions and “oper­at­ing pow­ered equip­ment in envi­ron­ments where humans could not sur­vive.” But that’s not where the appli­ca­tions of Atlas end. See­ing that the Pen­ta­gon has helped finance and design Atlas, you can eas­i­ly see the humanoid fight­ing on the bat­tle­field. Stay tuned for that clip in 2018.

Which brings us to our next video. The new short film, “Slaugh­ter­bots,” comes from the Cam­paign to Stop Killer Robots and it fol­lows this plot:

A mil­i­tary firm unveils a tiny drone that hunts and kills with ruth­less effi­cien­cy. But when the tech­nol­o­gy falls into the wrong hands, no one is safe. Politi­cians are cut down in broad day­light. The machines descend on a lec­ture hall and spot activists, who are swift­ly dis­patched with an explo­sive to the head.

Accord­ing to UC Berke­ley AI expert Stu­art Rus­sell, “Slaugh­ter­bots” looks like sci­ence fic­tion. But it’s not. “It shows the results of inte­grat­ing and minia­tur­iz­ing tech­nolo­gies that we already have.” It is “sim­ply an inte­gra­tion of exist­ing capa­bil­i­ties… In fact, it is eas­i­er to achieve than self-dri­ving cars, which require far high­er stan­dards of per­for­mance.” Recent­ly shown at the Unit­ed Nations’ Con­ven­tion on Con­ven­tion­al Weapons, “Slaugh­ter­bots” comes on the heels of an open let­ter signed by 116 robot­ics and AI sci­en­tists (includ­ing Tesla’s Elon Musk), urg­ing the UN to ban the devel­op­ment and use of killer robots. It reads:

Lethal autonomous weapons threat­en to become the third rev­o­lu­tion in war­fare. Once devel­oped, they will per­mit armed con­flict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can com­pre­hend. These can be weapons of ter­ror, weapons that despots and ter­ror­ists use against inno­cent pop­u­la­tions, and weapons hacked to behave in unde­sir­able ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.

If we already have mil­i­tary drones tak­ing out ene­mies across the world (in places like Yemen, Soma­lia, Iraq, Syr­ia, Libya and Afghanistan), the men­tal leap to deploy­ing Slaugh­ter­bots does­n’t seem too great. Do you trust our lead­ers to make fin­er dis­tinc­tions and keep a lid on Pan­do­ra’s Box? Or could you see them tear­ing Pan­do­ra’s Box open like a gift on Christ­mas day? Yeah, me too. The robots of your dystopi­an future are now here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Orwell Pre­dict­ed Cam­eras Would Watch Us in Our Homes; He Nev­er Imag­ined We’d Glad­ly Buy and Install Them Our­selves

Experts Pre­dict When Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Will Take Our Jobs: From Writ­ing Essays, Books & Songs, to Per­form­ing Surgery and Dri­ving Trucks

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence: A Free Online Course from MIT

Watch Footage of the Velvet Underground Composing “Sunday Morning,” the First Track on Their Seminal Debut Album The Velvet Underground & Nico (1966)

Before its many lay­ers of well-deserved hagiog­ra­phy, the Vel­vet Underground’s first album emerged in 1967 on its own terms, in near obscu­ri­ty, intro­duc­ing some­thing so mys­te­ri­ous­ly cool and haunt­ing­ly grim and beau­ti­ful. Goth and punk and post-punk and New Wave and cham­ber pop and shoegaze and indie folk and Brit­pop and noise and drone and No Wave… all came decades lat­er. But first there was The Vel­vet Under­ground & Nico. Of its unlike­ly cre­ation, Tyler Wilcox writes, “tal­ent, vision, fear­less­ness, a touch of genius: they’re all nec­es­sary ingre­di­ents for the cre­ation of a clas­sic album. But you’re also going to need a lot of luck.”

Wilcox describes in his his­to­ry how all of those qualities—luck, and Andy Warhol, included—brought the five orig­i­nal VU mem­bers togeth­er in 1965; how the band debuted with Nico at the Del­moni­co Hotel 1966, occa­sion­ing the New York Her­ald Tri­bune’s head­line, “Shock Treat­ment for Psy­chi­a­trists”; and how their lo-fi drone and Medieval folk meets deca­dent, lit­er­ary 60s pop derived from influ­ences like Book­er T. & The MG’s and avant-garde min­i­mal­ist La Monte Young. It’s one thing to read about this total re-imag­ing of rock and roll, and anoth­er thing entire­ly to see it. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, lit­tle film of the band exists from that time—some of it very frag­men­tary or very rare.

Just above, you can see one of the best pieces of footage: Lou Reed, John Cale, and Ster­ling Mor­ri­son com­pos­ing the album’s first track, the del­i­cate “Sun­day Morn­ing,” whose hand­ful of wist­ful, ambigu­ous lyrics intro­duce Reed’s “spir­i­tu­al seek­ing” as a the­mat­ic thread that weaves through songs of sado­masochism, hero­in, and death. The silent film was shot in 1966 by film­mak­er Ros­alind Steven­son while the band rehearsed in her apart­ment. This debut broad­cast, with the stu­dio record­ing over­laid, comes from a 1994 BBC pro­gram called Peel Slow­ly and See (after the instruc­tion telling buy­ers of the vinyl LP to peel the banana stick­er and dis­cov­er this).

Had the band only record­ed their first album, it’s hard to imag­ine their impor­tance in rock his­to­ry would be much less­ened, but it’s also hard to imag­ine rock his­to­ry with­out fol­low-ups White Light/White Heat, The Vel­vet Under­ground, and Loaded. Yet these were all prod­ucts of delib­er­ate focus, and a dimin­ish­ing num­ber of key singers/songwriters. The first Vel­vet Under­ground album is mag­i­cal for its serendip­i­ty and almost schizoid col­lec­tion of ful­ly-formed per­son­al­i­ties, each so dis­tinc­tive that “each track” on The Vel­vet Under­ground & Nico “has launched an entire genre.”

So notes WBEZ’s Sound Opin­ions. Just above you can hear the show’s Jim DeRo­gatis and Greg Kot dis­cuss the influ­ences and sig­nif­i­cance, with many son­ic exam­ples, of the album that launched a few thou­sand bands. Watch the cre­ation of “Sun­day Morn­ing” and think about the num­ber of times you’ve heard it haunt­ing bands like Belle and Sebas­t­ian, the Decem­brists, or Beach House. And if you’ve some­how missed all the oth­er gen­res to which this first record gave birth, DeRo­gatis and Kot should get you caught up on why “no album has had a greater influ­ence on rock in that last half-cen­tu­ry than the Vel­vet Underground’s debut.”

Find more ear­ly VU footage in the Relat­eds right below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Vel­vet Under­ground & Andy Warhol Stage Pro­to-Punk Per­for­mance Art: Dis­cov­er the Explod­ing Plas­tic Inevitable (1966)

A Sym­pho­ny of Sound (1966): Vel­vet Under­ground Impro­vis­es, Warhol Films It, Until the Cops Turn Up

An Ani­ma­tion of The Vel­vet Underground’s “Sun­day Morn­ing” … for Your Sun­day Morn­ing

Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico Reunite, Play Acoustic Vel­vet Under­ground Songs on French TV, 1972

The Vel­vet Underground’s John Cale Plays Erik Satie’s Vex­a­tions on I’ve Got a Secret (1963)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

How Art Spiegelman Designs Comic Books: A Breakdown of His Masterpiece, Maus

Maus, car­toon­ist Art Spiegel­man’s ground­break­ing, Pulitzer Prize-win­ning account of his com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ship with his Holo­caust sur­vivor father, is a sto­ry that lingers.

Spiegel­man famous­ly chose to depict the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats. Non-Jew­ish civil­ians of his father’s native Poland were ren­dered as pigs. He flirt­ed with the idea of depict­ing his French-born wife, the New Yorker’s art edi­tor, Françoise Mouly, as a frog or a poo­dle, until she con­vinced him that her con­ver­sion to Judaism mer­it­ed mouse­hood, too.

The char­ac­ters’ anthro­po­mor­phism is not the only visu­al inno­va­tion, as the Nerd­writer, Evan Puschak, points out above.

Draw­ing on inter­views in Meta­Maus: A Look Inside a Mod­ern Clas­sic, taped con­ver­sa­tions with Neil Gaiman, and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Washington’s Mar­cia Alvar, and oth­er sources, the Nerd­writer pans an eight-pan­el page from the first chap­ter for max­i­mum mean­ing.

On first glance, noth­ing much appears to be hap­pen­ing on that page—hoping to con­vince his elder­ly father to sub­mit to inter­views for the book that would even­tu­al­ly become Maus, Spiegel­man trails him to his child­hood bed­room, which the old­er man has equipped with an exer­cise bike that he ped­als in dress shoes and black socks.

But, as Spiegel­man him­self once point­ed out:

Those pan­els are each units of time. You see them simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, so you have var­i­ous moments in time simul­ta­ne­ous­ly made present. 

Read­ers must force them­selves to pro­ceed slow­ly in order to ful­ly appre­ci­ate the coex­is­tence of all those moments.

Left to our own devices, we might pick up on the senior Spiegelman’s con­cen­tra­tion camp tat­too, or the intro­duc­tion of Art’s late moth­er via the framed pho­to he shows him­self pick­ing up.

But Puschak takes us on an even deep­er dive, not­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of Art’s place­ment in the long mid-page pan­el. Watch out for the 4:30 mark, anoth­er visu­al stun­ner is teased out in a man­ner rem­i­nis­cent of the rev­e­la­tion of a mes­sage writ­ten in invis­i­ble ink.

So Maus con­ferred com­mer­cial suc­cess upon its cre­ator, while hang­ing onto some of the bold visu­al exper­i­ments from ear­li­er in his career, when he and Mouly helped dri­ve the under­ground comix scene—the past and present entwined yet again.

And this is just one page. Should you ven­ture forth in search of fur­ther visu­al cues lat­er in the text, please use the com­ments sec­tion to share your dis­cov­er­ies.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

R. Crumb Shows Us How He Illus­trat­ed Gen­e­sis: A Faith­ful, Idio­syn­crat­ic Illus­tra­tion of All 50 Chap­ters

23 Car­toon­ists Unite to Demand Action to Reduce Gun Vio­lence: Watch the Result

Lyn­da Bar­ry on How the Smart­phone Is Endan­ger­ing Three Ingre­di­ents of Cre­ativ­i­ty: Lone­li­ness, Uncer­tain­ty & Bore­dom

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

How American Women “Kickstarted” a Campaign to Give Marie Curie a Gram of Radium, Raising $120,000 in 1921

Image by Bib­lio­thèque nationale de France, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Marie Curie has a place in his­to­ry because of her research on radioac­tiv­i­ty, of course, but a look into her biog­ra­phy reveals anoth­er area she had a part in pio­neer­ing: crowd­fund­ing. It hap­pened in 1921, 23 years after she dis­cov­ered radi­um and a decade after she won the Nobel Prize in Chem­istry (her sec­ond Nobel, the first being the Physics prize, shared with her hus­band Pierre and physi­cist Hen­ri Bec­quer­el in 1903). The pre­vi­ous year, writes Ann M. Lewic­ki in the jour­nal Radi­ol­o­gy, an Amer­i­can reporter by the name of Marie Mel­oney had land­ed a rare inter­view with Curie, dur­ing which the famed physi­cist-chemist admit­ted her great­est desire: “some addi­tion­al radi­um so that she could con­tin­ue her lab­o­ra­to­ry research.”

It seems that “she who had dis­cov­ered radi­um, who had freely shared all infor­ma­tion about the extrac­tion process, and who had giv­en radi­um away so that can­cer patients could be treat­ed, found her­self with­out the finan­cial means to acquire the expen­sive sub­stance.” Radi­um no longer exists in its pure form now, and even in 1921 it was, to quote Back to the Future’s Doc Brown on plu­to­ni­um, a lit­tle hard to come by: it cost $100,000 per gram back then, which Smithsonian.com’s Kat Eschn­er esti­mates at “about $1.3 mil­lion today.”

The solu­tion arrived in the form of the Marie Curie Radi­um Fund, launched by Mel­oney and con­tributed to by numer­ous female aca­d­e­mics, who raised more than half the full sum in less than a year. And so in 1921, as the Nation­al Insti­tute of Stan­dards and Tech­nol­o­gy tells it, “Marie Curie made her first vis­it to the Unit­ed States accom­pa­nied by her two daugh­ters Irène and Eve.” They vis­it­ed, among oth­er places, the Radi­um Refin­ing Plant in Pitts­burgh and the White House, where she received her gram of radi­um from Pres­i­dent War­ren Hard­ing. “The haz­ardous source itself was not brought to the cer­e­mo­ny,” the NIST has­tens to add. “Instead, she was pre­sent­ed with a gold­en key to the cof­fer and a cer­tifi­cate.”

The real stuff went back on the ship to Paris with her. As for that extra $56,413.54 pro­to-crowd­fund­ed by the Marie Curie Radi­um Fund, it even­tu­al­ly went on to sup­port the Marie Curie Fel­low­ship, first award­ed in 1963 to sup­port a French or Amer­i­can woman study­ing chem­istry, physics, or radi­ol­o­gy. Giv­en the costs of inno­v­a­tive research in those fields today, Curie’s intel­lec­tu­al descen­dants might have a hard time fund­ing their work on, say, Kick­starter, but they have only to remem­ber what hap­pened when she ran out of radi­um to remind them­selves of the untapped sup­port poten­tial­ly all around them.

via The Smith­son­ian

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the Life & Work of Marie Curie, the First Female Nobel Lau­re­ate

Marie Curie Attend­ed a Secret, Under­ground “Fly­ing Uni­ver­si­ty” When Women Were Banned from Pol­ish Uni­ver­si­ties

Marie Curie Invent­ed Mobile X‑Ray Units to Help Save Wound­ed Sol­diers in World War I

Marie Curie’s Research Papers Are Still Radioac­tive 100+ Years Lat­er

New Archive Puts 1000s of Einstein’s Papers Online, Includ­ing This Great Let­ter to Marie Curie

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Google Street View Lets You Walk in Jane Goodall’s Footsteps and Visit the Chimpanzees of Tanzania

As men­tioned here last month, Dr. Jane Goodall is now teach­ing her first online course through Mas­ter­class. In 29 video lessons, her course will teach you about the three pil­lars of her life­long work: envi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion, ani­mal intel­li­gence, and activism. But that’s not the only way you can dig­i­tal­ly engage with Jane Goodal­l’s world. Over on Google Maps, you can take a visu­al jour­ney through Gombe Nation­al Park in Tan­za­nia, where Goodall con­duct­ed her his­toric chim­panzee research, start­ing back in July, 1960. As Google writes: this visu­al ini­tia­tive lets you expe­ri­ence “what it’s like to be Jane for a day.” You can “peek into her house, take a dip in Lake Tan­ganyi­ka, spot the chimp named Google and try to keep up with Glit­ter and Gos­samer.” Com­plet­ed in part­ner­ship with Tan­za­ni­a’s Nation­al Parks and the Jane Goodall Insti­tute, this project con­tributes to an effort to use satel­lite imagery and map­ping to pro­tect 85 per­cent of the remain­ing chim­panzees in Africa. To get the most out of Street View Gombe, vis­it the accom­pa­ny­ing web­site Jane Goodal­l’s Roots and Shoots.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dr. Jane Goodall Is Now Teach­ing an Online Course on Con­ser­va­tion, Ani­mal Intel­li­gence & Activism

Ani­mat­ed: The Inspi­ra­tional Sto­ry of Jane Goodall, and Why She Believes in Big­foot

Google Lets You Take a 360-Degree Panoram­ic Tour of Street Art in Cities Across the World

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.