Are Your Coffee Table Books Pretentious?
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Are Your Coffee Table Books Pretentious?

Is this legit interior design or an insult to knowledge? Design pros debate.

By Ruby King
Thu, Oct 7, 2021 2:58pmGrey Clock 2 min

These days, the inspiration-hungry might scroll through Instagram more often than they flip through bound volumes, but some interior designers insist coffee table books are as popular as ever. “I’ve never had a client say they don’t want them,” said Kricken Yaker, co-founder and principal designer of Vanillawood in Lake Oswego, Ore. “As a designer I think coffee table books are still super relevant because they can tell the story of who you are.”

Lee Kaplan, the owner of Arcana: Books on the Arts, in Culver City, Calif., considers collecting coffee table books akin to building a personal art collection. “We do a lot of business with architects and interior designers. Because of the significance of these books, and what they represent, people want to display them in their homes,” he said.

Mr. Kaplan notes that his customers often request the Taschen monograph on 1980s artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, or anything featuring Belgian interior designer Axel Vervoordt, who’s masterminded homes for celebrity clients such as Calvin Klein and Robert De Niro. Mr. Yacker has seen a lot of interest in Rizzoli’s monograph on fashion designer Tom Ford. Clients who want to express their rebel hearts spring for the Stephen Sprouse Book, a Rizzoli book dedicated to the punky New York fashion designer and “covered in graffiti.”

Sam Gosling, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, has studied the relationship between personality and living spaces. He notes that people can rely on the books as a legitimate way to project their passions. “If the book is more out-there, that could suggest they have an intellectual curiosity for new and complex ideas.”


Nothing says “I have never picked up this book in my life” more than a decorative bowl collecting dust on top of a tome, declare naysayers. And guests, who are most likely loath to move objets set atop books, aren’t likely to peruse the folios either, negating any argument that coffee table tomes make good social icebreakers.

Mr. Kaplan, who has seen picture books used as everything from the perch for an hors d’oeuvres platter to the landing place for cigarette butts that miss the ashtray, doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with buying books for purely decorative purposes. (He profits from such sales, of course.) He’d prefer, however, that they be regarded as significant repositories of knowledge, meant to be held and read.

Pointing to an Instagram post from one social media influencer which pictured her in lingerie posing in her closet against a bookshelf stacked precisely with art, design and architecture books, Mr. Kaplan said that younger people, especially, seem to “see them as props….They don’t buy them because they love books.”

Portland, Ore., designer Allison Smith suggested that rather than reduce a book to décor, you should find a more personal and authentic way to tell your story. “The best décor items are from experiences or travels you’ve had. I like to intermingle objects that my clients simply liked at a store with things they have gathered throughout their life.”

On the people whose coffee table books appear unread, Prof. Gosling has a generous take. “That might suggest their interests are more aspirational.”


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

Tue, May 28, 2024 4 min

We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).


People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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