Six-Point Inspection: Clean Water Should Be Considered a Human Right

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 6 2014 9:45 AM

Six-Point Inspection: Clean Water Should Be Considered a Human Right

A boy washes himself with water drawn from a well in Sri Lanka.

Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Each month in “The Six-Point Inspection,” Future Tense and Zócalo Public Square take a quick look at new science and technology books that are changing the way we see our world.


The nutshell: Everything about our contemporary world—from global politics to food production technology—has made our water supply unsustainable, argues Canadian activist Barlow. She calls for clean water to be recognized as a human right and a public resource.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: For Christmas this year, all you wanted was a spring-fed pond.

Cocktail party fodder: A 2012 study by University of Twente researchers in the Netherlands found—based on estimates of the water used to produce the food we eat, the clothing we wear, and the products we use—that the average global citizen uses 4,000 liters of water per day. That’s 10 to 12 times higher than previous approximations.

For optimal benefit: Do not read this book by a pool, particularly if that pool is in Las Vegas or Dubai.

Snap judgment: Barlow’s got a crusade, and she can be a bit of an alarmist, but once you read the facts she’s compiled it’s hard to disagree with most of her conclusions.

Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture by Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel

The nutshell: Scientists Aiden and Michel invented the Google Ngram Viewer, which allows users to analyze the evolution of language as captured in the millions of books Google has digitized. In Uncharted, they tell the story of how they developed this tool, explain some of their most trenchant findings, and demonstrate the potential of this data to illuminate the world we’ve created.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: When Edward Snowden’s leaks were first made public, your first reaction was to come up with 17 awesome ways to use all that NSA data.

Cocktail party fodder: As measured by the Ngram Viewer’s calculation of the number of times a name is mentioned in books, the most famous person born in 1936 is neither Robert Redford nor former Czech leader Václav Havel. It’s Carol Gilligan, a New York University psychologist.

For optimal benefit: Graph your favorite dirty words with the Ngram Viewer. Then present your findings to your peers, who have done exactly the same thing.

Snap judgment: Aiden and Michel have made fascinating discoveries about everything from the speed of fame to Soviet censorship. That they’re only just skimming the surface is hugely exciting.

The nutshell: Urban planner and master builder Robert Moses wanted the 1964-65 World’s Fair, which took place in Flushing, N.Y., to showcase the future. Instead, according to writer and editor Tirella, it portrayed a messy present, where art and civil rights, music and international relations, technology and architecture were undergoing a massive overhaul.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: “It’s a Small World”—designed originally for the fair’s Pepsi-Cola Pavilion—remains your favorite Disney ride (and song).

Cocktail party fodder: The Ford Mustang was first introduced at the fair, which also gave visitors their first glimpse of Manhattan’s not-yet-built Twin Towers, displayed in miniature.

For optimal benefit: Take an excursion to Queens to check out the iconic, decaying New York State Pavilion—with its mid-century-modern, spaceship-like towers—which was designed by architect Philip Johnson. Or stay in Manhattan and take a YouTube tour.

Snap judgment: Tirella uses the fair to relate a cultural history of the early- to mid-1960s that’s mostly familiar—but he does succeed in capturing an exciting time from many different angles.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Sarah Rothbard is managing and books editor of Zócalo Public Square.



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?


Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.