Matthew Gifford

Weekend notes: 5/21/17


A couple weeks ago, my coworker Tobi Lehman sent me the Wikipedia entry for Shen Kuo, an eleventh-century Chinese scientist and statesman. To call him a polymath is an understatement. “His written work included two geographical atlases, a treatise on music with mathematical harmonics, governmental administration, mathematical astronomy, astronomical instruments, martial defensive tactics and fortifications, painting, tea, medicine, and much poetry.” He also was the first to describe the magnetic compass and created hypotheses about land formation and gradual climate change. It would be centuries before some of these ideas would occur to anyone in Europe. I would venture a guess that you’ve never heard of him. I hadn’t.

I don’t know if it’s because of language, culture, or some other reason, but it seems like the average Westerner doesn’t know or understand much about Asia. Which seems crazy, because a huge portion of the world’s population lives there.

You might remember being told in school that China has more than a billion people. It’s almost 1.4 billion now, compared to a little more than 320 million in the United States. That fact alone is mind-boggling when you think about it enough.

Here’s a fun bit of related trivia. How many American cities have a population greater than 1 million people? 10: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose. Based on the difference in population, one would expect China to have about 43 cities of this size. The actual number: 102.

This blows my mind. How many of these cities can I name? Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Harbin. Who are all these people? What are their lives like? Why do I know almost nothing about them?

Japan is this way for me, too. I know a little more about it than China. But after watching this video, I realized that I knew almost nothing about Japan before World War II.

And these are two of the most well-known Asian countries. How much do you know about Bhutan? Did you even know that it existed?

Since we’re talking about how sometimes learning new information may shock you, Matthew Inman wrote an excellent comic about the backfire effect and how you can overcome it in yourself. Please make time to read it.

Once you’re done with that, we can put it to work right away: The Fearless Girl statue that was recently placed in front of Wall Street’s Charging Bull is actually a marketing gimmick that ruins the original meaning of Charging Bull. How did that statement make you feel? My initial reaction that anyone writing that would have an anti-feminist agenda. But, that’s not the case at all.

Improve your information diet!

  1. Facebook does actually make you miserable.
  2. In fact, a lot of online stuff is designed to waste your time.
  3. If you value your time, which is the only resource you can’t get more of, it’s key that you make good choices about how you use it.

May 21, 2017

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