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Meme Weavers; Evolution, Accelerated; All Together Now

Very Short List delivers one excellent item to your inbox, daily: Books, films, music, web-things, and dispatches on science and technology. Today, trace the history of internet culture, read the latest theory about human evolution, and play a great new musical instrument — online.

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VERY SHORT LIST

Meme weavers
Know Your Meme Improv Everywhere Malcolm Gladwell
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BOOK
And Then There’s This

Bill Wasik’s And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture is the cultural history of a phenomenon that Wasik himself helped to usher into being.

Wasik created the first flash mob — a viral phenomenon whereby strangers converged at one location after receiving an e-prompt — in 2003. The point was to let information originate and spread from the ground up instead of trickling down from media giants on high. (This despite the fact that Wasik himself works at Harper’s.) Six years later, blogs, memes, and nanostories are ubiquitous. And yet, Wasik advocates taking baby steps away from technology, “making careful and self-reflective choices about what we read, watch, consume.” As for the reasoning behind that first flash mob: “I was bored,” he explains.

BUY And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture (Viking; hardcover; 208 pages)

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VSL:SCIENCE

Evolution, accelerated
Evolution: The First Four Billion Years The Beak of the Finch Built with the same body and brain
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BOOK
The 10,000 Year Explosion

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According to the stock evolutionary narratives, humans became “behaviorally modern” some 50,000 years ago and haven’t evolved much genetically since then. But according to Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending’s provocative new book, The 10,000 Year Explosion, human civilization has actually accelerated human evolution.

First, Cochran and Harpending use recently mined genetic data to show that favorable new genes (such as the one for lactose tolerance) still sweep through human populations. Next, they argue that such “sweeps” have created vital differences among evolutionary subgroups. One chapter suggests that long-agricultural Europeans have developed stronger organizational and planning skills than nomadic sub-Saharan Africans. Other, equally contentious chapters address the intelligence of Ashkenazi Jews, and interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals. Cochran and Harpending’s conclusions may or may not pan out — some are more convincing than others — but their interlacing of genetics and anthropology is almost always enthralling.

BUY The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (Basic Books; hardcover; 304 pages)

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VSL:WEB

All together now
The Pearl Indaba Music ThruYou
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PROJECT
In Bb 2.0

In Bb 2.0 collects 16 YouTube music videos and lets you play them in any order, or all at once. And because 15 of them feature music in the key of B-flat major, the sounds match up perfectly. What the site’s creator, Darren Solomon, has really invented is a new kind of instrument.

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You can choose from electric guitar, bass, trumpet, glass marimba — even a spoken-word piece (called “Information”) by one Daniel Donahoo. Solomon also invites you to submit videos of your own, which he’ll post at a later date. If you take him up on the offer, keep the following in mind: Astronomers have discovered that black holes emit a single note, which just happens to be B flat. The stars, it seems, are playing our song.

CHECK OUT In Bb 2.0

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