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27 January

Read Pierre Bayard's "How to talk about books you haven't read" and feel better. Or don't read it and try to engage in a conversation about it. Not only is this ok, but it will also enrich the conversation and enhance your creativity. This is Bayard's thesis. He first explores different forms of "non-reading": a. the book you have never opened, b. the book you only have heard of, c. the book you have skimmed, and d. the book you have forgotten. Is d. better than a.? It does not matter says Bayard. What matters is to change one's mindset: consider non-reading as an activity, and make a clear distinction between reading a book and talking about it. The latter involves a third party and should be guided by the context and nature of this relationship, not just the content of the book. Engaging in the conversation at that level can be done in different ways: by referring to the broader "collective library" to which a particular book belongs, connecting to arguments other people make, or simply using one's creativity to invent what the book is about. In the end, for Bayard, it is about talking about one’s "inner library". Bayard gives guidance about how to talk about a book you haven't read with a large audience, a professor, the author (!?), and a loved one. He uses literature classics to illustrate his points. Like this Oscar Wilde quote: "I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so.” It is a refreshing and funny book. So drop the guilt and test it out. And if you want more, there is a sequel: "How to talk about places you've never been".  
Tristan Harris' "Tech companies design your life, here’s why you should care" is a good wake up call. Google’s former product philosopher argues that big techs are destroying our agency capacity by high jacking our attention through a bunch of tricks that feed our needs to be linked, looked, and liked. We’ve all thought about this before. But we also know that changing habits is hard. And in this case we are battling something bigger than us: hundreds of machine-augmented brains who spend their days thinking about how to keep us on the screen. Tech products are designed to hook us via instant gratifications that fill in any spare time we have, leaving no room for complex feelings like boredom or sadness to sink in. While it is problematic for us, it is detrimental for children and their emotional and social development. One can’t fix this alone. It’s all about changing the design, says Harris, so that tech products are aligned with a higher concept of a life well spent. And he believes it is possible. So together with the SOWC team (doing a deep dive on children in the digital age this year) we are bringing him to UNICEF next Tuesday as part of our Conversation with Thought Leaders series to talk about “ethical design for digital natives”. Join us if you can. We’ll tape and share if you can’t.
My graph this week is from ILO’s “World employment social outlook: Trends 2017” which shows, using Gallup data, the share of working-age population (aged 15+) willing to permanently migrate outside of their countries. This number increased between 2009-2016 for all parts of the world but South(eastern) Asia and the Pacific. It is yet another signal that international migration either forced or voluntary, either conflict-, climate- or unemployment-generated, is on the rise. The report is worth a scan as it unpacks data on the growth of global unemployment per regions and gender (summary here, videos and interactive maps, here).

My quote this week is from Jim Estill in “The Canadian who spent C$1.5 million to rescue more than 200 Syrian refugees”: “I still don’t see what the big deal is. And I’m surprised more people don’t step up and do it. I didn’t want to grow old and say I stood by and did nothing. So I decided to do my small part.”

Happy year of the rooster! 


Katell Le Goulven
Chief, Policy Planning

What I read is a weekly selection of readings. Their choice is subjective. It's usually about something that interests or surprises me. Something I did not know. Something I found relevant to my work and maybe to yours. All views are mine and do not reflect those of the organization.

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