Searching for Syria – evocative use of media

Searching for Syria - Screenshot

SearchingForSyria.org is a website put together by the UNHCR in partnership with Google. It’s a great example of storytelling on the web, using fantastic photos and an interactive site to convey a message.

More like a powerpoint presentation than a traditional website, navigation is minimised and stunning, full screen images take centre stage. “What was Syria like before the war” engenders empathy – google searches, Gorillaz concerts and days at the beach highlight universality, hammered home by personal stories and anecdotes.

Content and messaging is easy to read and clever use of media (like overlaid before and after photos with a sliding divider) amplify the words. The stories and images are truly horrific, and the statistics break your heart.

I think that efforts like this are really crucial in helping people understand the breath taking magnitude of a crisis like this and more importantly breaking down stereotypes and emphasising the human connection, the sameness in all of us.

The Best of Journalism

Conor Friedersdorf  is one of my favourite writers, and one (along with Sam Harris) that I turn to for nuanced (and counter-intuitive) takes on current affairs.

He puts together a “Best of Journalism” newsletter and each year publishes a list of over 100 exceptional pieces of journalism. This is an amazing snapshot of long form, investigative journalism that will keep you interested for hours.

Get lost in the abyss here.

How to remember what you read

I’m a pretty voracious reader of articles and too often I get carried away, read too many things then run out of steam. I always worry that I don’t take enough in.

This article talks about the difference between passive readers and active readers. I try and mix the books I read (generally popular fiction or biographies, literary fiction and non-fiction) for variety and to maintain a good rhythm, but too often I think I read passively.

One of my goals of 2018 is to ‘consume less, create more’ and I think this ties in nicely with active reading. I want to get the most out of the time I spend reading, and hopefully publishing some notes will help me do this.

I like the suggestions presented in the article:

  • Getting context (something I usually do after reading to avoid spoilers, but will aim to do up front).
  • Understanding what you want to get out of the book.
  • Relevant reading (about things you are working on or thinking about).
  • Take notes (I do this occasionally, but will try and do so more diligently).
  • Make mental links.
  • Put it down if you get bored (I struggle with this, preferring to finish a book or movie I don’t like just to get the full picture).

There are also some suggestions for after reading. I have a long list of books / articles that I want to read, and this accumulates faster than I can get through it. So when I finish a book, I’m usually excited about jumping right into the next one.

The “Learning how to learn” course I did earlier this year focussed a lot on reflection and recall being important for bedding down long term memories.

  • The Feynman Technique (I’d never heard of this, but it is essentially “Explain it like I’m five”).
  • Think about where you can apply it.
  • Teach others what you’ve learned (I’ve always found ideas sink in a lot more when you have to explain them to others).
  • Goodreads (I’ve written small private reviews, but will aim to write more public reviews on this blog).

I think I’ll be coming back to this article over the year and using it to improve my retention, to make sure I’m consciously taking actions to read actively and improve the way I read!

Note: I just started work on a project I’ve called Mental Models – I literally put the website up this morning. I noticed that this article also has a Mental Models section – serendipity? 

General tips for healthy living

I recently read an article by John Schumann, a doctor who is frequently asked for medical advice by friends and family. He says that medical professionals aren’t always sure what is wrong and mostly use educated guesses to do their best to treat patients.

They do know a lot about prevention, and most of it is really simple stuff. There’s no silver bullet, the hard part is not doing these things, it’s doing them consistently, building them into your routine and making them a habit.

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Move your body.
  • Eat well.
  • Interact socially.
  • Take time to reflect and practice gratitude.

I love this simple advice. It’s like the one line diet “eat only foods with less than three ingredients” that steers you toward buying fresh and raw ingredients.

Like learning anything, it comes down to practice and repetition. Bill Gates said that we overestimate what we can do in a year and underestimate what we can do in a decade. Like compound interest, these preventative steps really pay off in the long run.

It’s worth reading the full article, and coming back to it often. Check it out here.