A mile wide, an inch deep

Evan Williams | Medium | 5 January 2015

Quantity is easy to measure; quality much harder. Is Buzzfeed “bigger” than the New York Times? In page-views, perhaps yes. But as a force in world affairs, surely not. Likewise for social media: Instagram may have more traffic than Twitter, but Twitter does more important work. Traffic is a useful metric, but a limited and sometimes dangerous one; platforms that chase traffic for its own sake can rise fast, but they fall even faster.

What the world will speak in 2115

 John McWhorter | Wall Street Journal | 2 January 2015

The number of languages commonly spoken around the world will shrink from 6,000 to 600 in the coming century, thanks to globalisation and urbanisation. Larger languages offer more opportunity. English will remain the world’s common language, by virtue of having got there first and because it has adapted well to the role. “If the Chinese rule the world, they will likely do so in English.”

Some 2015 predictions

John Herrman | Awl | 5 January 2015

The end of the website is nigh. “In 2015, notable (choose your definition) publications will declare their intentions to go fully distributed – or some other term that means the same thing – effectively abandoning their websites and becoming content channels within Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or Vine or Instagram. 2015 will be the year that a large magazine company folds a major lifestyle brand into a Pinterest page.”

New clues

David Weinberger & Doc Searls | Cluetrain | 8 January 2015 

Authors of the venerable "Cluetrain Manifesto" return with a new roadmap for a better internet: “Every time you call us ‘consumers’ we feel like cows looking up the word ‘meat’ … If we want our government to back off, the deal has to be that when the next attack comes, we can’t complain that they should have surveilled us harder … A conversation isn’t your business tugging at our sleeve to shill a product we don’t want to hear about.”

The truth about free will

Daniel Dennett & Nigel Warburton | Salon | 28 December 2014 

“Suppose you had a complete atom-by-atom history of every giraffe that ever lived, and every giraffe ancestor that ever lived. You wouldn’t have an answer to the question of why they have long necks … The difference between an organism that has free will and an organism that doesn’t has nothing to do with the atoms. You have to go to the appropriate design level, and then it sticks out like a sore thumb”.

Is string theory about to unravel?

Brian Greene | Smithsonian | 19 December 2014

According to string theory there is a “vibrating string-like filament” at the heart of each subatomic particle, and the vibrations of the filament give the particle its mass and charge. But 30 years after the theory was first advanced there is no experimental evidence to support it, and perhaps we should not expect any, since the strings would be so tiny that a particle-collider the size of a galaxy would be needed to detect them     .

What to eat after the apocalypse

Joshua Pearce | Nautilus | 18 December 2014

Assume a nuclear war and a nuclear winter. Most people survive, but soot fills the upper atmosphere; the skies go dark for five years; temperatures plummet; crops fail. What to eat? Here’s the menu: Chew leaves for nutrients, but spit out the fibre. Brew tea from pine needles. Grow mushrooms on dead trees, and eat the mushrooms — or feed them to rats, and eat the rats. Lots of insects. And fish, if there are still fishing boats.

+ Discover BBC Future’s guide to the apocalyptic threats we should fear the most.

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