IN CASE YOU MISSED THIS ...
Mount Holyoke College alumna Carol Geary Schneider ’67, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), called for better understanding and appreciation of liberal arts education in a recent video interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Schneider argued that a liberal arts education is not only useful, but it is necessary because it enables students to gain “a big-picture education that prepares them to deal with complexity, and prepares them to take ethical responsibility and civic responsibility for what they're learning.”
Highlighting her experience at Mount Holyoke as a prime example of how liberal arts institutions prepare and challenge students, she recalled a fond encounter that set her on her path for success within and beyond her time at Mount Holyoke. As a first-year student, she had a “very patient freshman-English teacher,” who carefully listened to her “very naive questions about religion, [and] had a more ambitious notion of what [she] might do with those questions.”
She added that a liberal arts education is useful for lifelong engagement because it always begins with the students’ own thoughts and helps them to sharpen and improve their skills.
“You start with what the student's really thinking about, what they think is relevant. And then you help them enter a journey where they just develop a more sophisticated understanding of what their commitments and their questions really mean.”
Schneider has long been recognized for her contributions to higher education in the United States. She was the keynote speaker and received an honorary doctorate from Mount Holyoke in 2015. She leaves her position as the president of the AAC&U this summer, and will be succeeded by fellow alumna, Mount Holyoke College President Lynn Pasquerella ’80.
Chronicle of Higher Education Video Interview
Life is good if you have your health and not all bad even if you don't, which is sometimes forgotten in an election year, what with the high-pitched oratory on behalf of the embittered rich and people with ingrown toenails and what not. Apparently we are on the verge of losing our Second Amendment rights and will need to defend ourselves with tent stakes and bug spray. So I've heard people say.
I had an uncle, a farmer, who suffered from chronic hemorrhoids but he knew a druggist who sold an ointment made from opium and wormwood and it worked like a charm. The druggist was Catholic and we were born-again so there was moral compromise involved but when Uncle Gene was in need, he eased himself into his 1947 Ford with his special doughnut cushion and drove to town and got the cure. An illegal drug sold by a man who sent money to buy golden shoelaces for the Pope, but what are you going to do? Gene was a farmer and the tractor seat was hard and there were bumps. This is the amiable America I grew up in. You didn't blame your hemorrhoids on the party in power in Washington. "There are things more important than being right," Uncle Gene said once on his way home from the druggist. Think about that for a moment.
I loved the old America where children roamed the neighborhood unsupervised and you hitch-hiked and got to meet strangers. You knew people's jobs then. My Uncle Lawrence fixed cars, my dad was a carpenter: you watched him run the board through the circular saw and brace it against the joists and nail it into place, whackwhackwhackwhackwhack. Uncle Aldridge was a small-town doctor -- I once watched him, at the supper table, extract a fishing lure from the eyebrow of a weeping boy while the rest of us sat and ate our meatloaf and string beans. Work was sociable: people watched you and commented. Now everybody is in media; maybe they're in charge of platform resource imaging or program development; they work in cubicles; nobody knows what they do exactly.
The old America endures, as long as baseball endures, or gardening, or joke-telling, or the state fair where people go to see pigs the size of Volkswagens and ride inside something like a salad spinner. It endures along with church suppers. They are dying out some places because the Myrtles and Gertrudes who were the brains of the church supper movement faded away, but the suppers survive in small towns, a cultural institution. If you were a Syrian refugee resettled in Grover's Corners, you should come to church suppers. Buy a raffle ticket to win the outboard motor and sit down with a plate of beans and baked chicken, potato salad, a roll, a slab of pie, and learn the art of small talk.
"So how are you doing?"
"Not so bad. Can't complain."
"Drove by your house and your lawn is looking pretty good."
"Well, we've had enough rain, that's for sure."
"How is your daughter doing?"
"Well, we don't hear much from her so she must be okay."
You will find common decency here, the common crucial values which are about marriage, parenthood, friendship, work, faith and attitude. You're surrounded by people who've known each other for fifty and sixty years, and decency dictates that they show you hospitality. This culture dates back to before we got so task-forced and committeed, fedback and workshopped to death, and any joyful impulse gets filtered through six layers of management until it dies a quiet death. It happened in the 1980s. We chose lifestyle over principle and you saw vineyards cropping up everywhere, even North Dakota has a Wine Country, where people who used to care about justice sit around appreciating the bouquet of gardenias and brook trout and the long finish with overtones of particle board. Old people who are on OxyContin for their arthritis toss back a flagon of Riesling and a plate of Brie, and I'm sorry but this is not good for intelligence, and so here we are in the present dilemma.
Style is not what keeps us going. We survive by virtue of people extending themselves, welcoming the young, showing sympathy for the suffering, taking pleasure in each other's good fortune. We are here for a brief time. We would like our stay to mean something. Do the right thing. Travel light. Be sweet.
The America I Miss
by Garrison Kiellor
I know it’s not a good idea to hate anyone. I know from an article I read that negative emotions are bad for my health. I would hate to have a heart attack because my internet isn’t working. But I do hate Verizon.
I spent four hours on the phone with the company on a recent Saturday morning. I know for sure I was disconnected three times. Once I didn’t realize it and just hung around for 20 minutes expecting someone to come back on the line. One person promised me he wouldn’t disappear and even said, “Have I yet?” I said no, and then he disappeared.
I keep forgetting that I don’t have internet, sitting down at my desk, clicking on a browser window and getting the blank screen with the message “Unable to connect.”
I was feeling crazy that I was getting so upset about this. My husband died last October. I blamed my hysteria on the loss of Jerry, not to mention the long summer of the fascism of Trump. With senseless tragedies all over the world, and my own loss, I am for sure anxious and despairing. Feeling on all counts helpless.
At some point during my day on the phone with Verizon, at least two hours in, I had to go through all their prompts again. I yelled at the prompts. Prompts are sinister, because after Verizon disconnects you, you have to call back and obey the rules to get to anyone again.
Some of the people I speak with appear, from their accents, not to be native English speakers. This adds another level of frustration and guilt because I imagine a room full of customer service employees in, say, India, forced to speak to spoiled, angry Americans. One man said he was a supervisor who promised to solve my problems even though it wasn’t his “area,” and he disappeared, too.
While endlessly on hold, I wrote checks. Isn’t that old-fashioned — paying bills by check? But actually at this moment it’s looking smart. No internet needed. I wrote a check to Verizon for $145.88.
I called my friend Deena to rant. She always makes sense of everything, and I thought she would say kindly: “You’re displacing your grief and anger about losing Jerry, and don’t forget the horrific news, the fear that our country is imploding, Trump, no gun control, what might Putin do, and what about Obama? He’s sane, and you’re about to lose him, too. It’s all making you feel helpless.”
Instead, she said that when she and her husband, Marty, changed their internet to AT&T, he almost went crazy. It was a six-month drama. Recently they wanted to make a change in their service but, she said, Marty is still so traumatized that they don’t dare.
This all began because I disconnected one of my two landlines. I don’t need two landlines now that I don’t have Jerry. This is the only change I have attempted to make in my entire life since my husband died, and it has obviously not gone well.
One of my friends (not a psychic) suggested that Jerry did not want me disconnecting his phone, but honestly that doesn’t sound like Jerry. His voice was on the answering service and I recorded it on my cellphone before asking for the disconnect.
He had a great voice — I was madly in love with his voice — and the only place I can hear it now is on this recording. He says, “You have reached Delia Ephron and Jerome Kass, please leave a message.”
In any event, when I asked for one landline to be disconnected, somehow the company also disconnected the DSL on the other landline.
I know it doesn’t make any sense, but that’s how it started. Now for the last month, Verizon has randomly disconnected my internet, and I spend hours on the phone trying to get it back.
I feel bad that I yelled and swore at people just trying to make a living. But then you know what, I didn’t feel bad, because it was 10 p.m. and I still didn’t have an internet connection. And I had to call again, and someone said there was no record of an order. I insisted on a supervisor. She would call, they assured me.
I really did scream. I scared my dog. It took a nearly week to get my internet back. I spent a lot of time with my computer at coffee shops. As a self-employed writer, completely dependent on the internet, I thought maybe I should sue for loss of work, 10 lattes and emotional distress. Internet access should be free. It’s how people apply for jobs, communicate, find out what to do if they get bee stings or worse.
Being able to afford it is a great advantage. Hillary Clinton should take a position on this: “Unable to connect” will end under her presidency. And throw in an end to all robocalls, too.
Delia Ephron is the author, most recently, of the novel “Siracusa
Love and Hate on Hold With Verizon
by Delia Ephron
by Joe Queenan
SURE SIGNS OF AN OUTSOURCED COLLEGE ESSAY
Between now and Thanksgiving, high-school seniors face the daunting task of writing riveting, revelatory personal essays that will make college admissions officers look more favorably on their applications.
Less verbal students--and plenty of smart ones--routinely seek help preparing these essays. And sometimes it is more than "help" that they are looking for: They get their parents or moon-lighting academics or impoverished poets or unexpectedly articulate classmates to crank out the essays for them.
Colleges insist that they can spot bogus essays because of anachronistic turns of phrases like “hoist with one’s own petard,” suggesting that a Shakespeare lecturer was trying to pay the rent, or because the entire 1,000 word essay lacks a single use of the words “awesome” or “sketchy.”
Any mention of Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha,” “The I Ching,” Marcia Brady or “The Good Ship Lollipop” is a dead giveaway that parents or grandparents were probably involved in the writing process somewhere along the line.
It is widely agreed that a lot of high-school students would have a hard time writing a check, much less a thoughtful essay, so ghost-writers are still very much in demand. But because the U.S. economy, has now reached a level of almost full employment, it is getting much more difficult for students to find homegrown strangers willing to write their essays.
Increasingly, applicants must turn to shadowy personal essay factories in other countries. Highly intelligent essayists based in India, the Caribbean, Ireland, Finland and Poland now do the work once handled by under-achieving American intellectuals, many of whom have recently moved on to better paying jobs at Facebook, Google, Whole Foods and Starbucks.
As talented as these foeign essayists are, students seeking admission to decent universities should be aware that such outsourced “ringers” come with their own drawbacks.
“If we see an angry reference to the Battle of the Boyne in an applicant’s essay, we know right away that we’re dealing with a ghostwriter based in Kilkenny or Londonderry,” says one admissions officer at a top West Coast university. “The same thing holds true if we notice even a single allusion to the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore. I’ll level with you; I never even heard of the guy until his name started popping up in all these essays.”
Similar red flags go up in the part of the essay that deals with personal goals. Admissions officers expect American students to talk about global warming, finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, eradicating poverty and locating the DNA needed to bring the extinct Tasmanian tiger back to life. Essays that focus too much on getting out of the country on the next bus strongly suggest that the author is actually a ghostwriter living in some blighted part of the world.
Finally, a survey of admissions officers makes it clear that suspicious language is the area where applicants need to cover their tracks most carefully.
“Watch for works like ‘gob-smacked’ and ‘good craic,’” reads one red-flag list distributed to admissions staff at a top Eastern college this year. “Beware of phrases like ‘C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre.’ And if the words ‘labour,’ ‘parlour’ or ‘phantasmagoric’ show up anywhere in an essay, we know we’re dealing with some out-of-work teacher from Blackpool who just got clocked by Brexit.”
Me and my friends won't ever adjust
by Brent Harold
For the Annals of Intergenerational Communication, the following report. Twice in the past week younger people of my acquaintance made a remarkable grammatical self-correction midsentence. Emily and Amanda, both around 30, in separate conversations with people of their parents' generation, began a sentence with "me and my friend..." and amended to "my friend and I ... ."
The switch was from what I take to be millennial-speak to what is still, according to online sources, considered "correct" English, the use of the nominative case "I" when it's the subject of the sentence, and the traditional courtesy of putting the other person first.
Both times I remarked on the midflight correction (with, I'm afraid, a bit of "aha"), while being quick to emphasize that, as a totally cool old person, I certainly didn't need them to distort their speech for my sake.
Actually, I spent years trying to educate my son, also a millennial, out of the uncouth "Me and ... (whichever accomplice) ... ." As it turned out, he educated me about it simply by refusing to give it up. It took me a while, but I finally began to see how, for his generation at least, "my friend and I" may be officially correct, but to that gen's ear it has an "after you, Alphonse" quality about it that sounds phony and undemocratic. (And "I and my friend" - dropping the old-fashioned courtesy while keeping the proper case - would simply sound both egotistical and stuffy. )
In "Stranger Things," a new Netflix series, a high school girl, characterized as smart and studious, at the dinner table with her parents starts a story with "me and my friend ... ." The show runners, who probably say "my friends and I" themselves, were savvy enough to know that the kid would sound more of a grammar nerd than they wanted if stigmatized with "my friends and I." (Grammar nerd is not the right sort of nerd in these days of nerd heroism.) No doubt the girl will, when it comes to a college application interview, know to make the switch to so-called standard English, as the English speakers of the British West Indies can turn on and off their dialect depending on whether they are speaking to a tourist.
I don't know when the "me and my friend" locution got established, but it's my impression that it was well after the otherwise far-out, radical, rule-smashing 1960s. Perhaps it's an invention of the millennials, that gen said to start with those born 1984 and after.
I have a friend who disputes my admittedly anecdotally based impression that "me and my friends" is a culturewide practice for a younger generation. She claims - energetically - that her millennial kids have never been inclined to use "me and my friend." Perhaps it's wishful hearing on her part. I hope so. Otherwise it's a terrible thing to say about your own children.
Are millennials when they hit 30 beginning to self-wean from "me and ... "? Was it an early moment of that in the maturation of Emily and Amanda that I witnessed last week, these two young women coming to their grammatical senses, leaving behind their grammatical childhood? Or were the self-corrections simply an instance of grownup awareness of what would make the oldsters around them feel more comfortable, no admission of grammatical guilt intended? Since language does change, will they still be saying "me and my friend" when talking among themselves, 90-year-olds in their rocking chairs?
In any case, as much as I appreciate the grammatical democracy of "me and my friends," my friends and I will probably never be comfortable with it coming from our own mouths, and I appreciate our prejudice for the "correct" being acknowledged by our kid
I pull the covers over my head so I can enjoy a few more happy, sleepy minutes of denial before I get up. To bask in how I might have contributed to the universe yesterday, embolden myself for what today brings. I scroll down my inner list, starting with the easy ones, the things I surely accomplished:
Did I walk 10,000 steps yesterday? No.
Did I even make it around the block? No.
Did I clean up the kitchen before I went to bed? No.
Brush the dog? No.
Email any members of Congress? No.
Make my voice heard in any way except by whining to friends or yelling at the TV? No.
Denial isn’t working. I was much more proud of myself when I was sound asleep. I sit bolt upright in bed, remembering with horror that I’m supposed to be a role model. It’s been awhile since I spent my days putting things into perspective for others in comic strip form, but I’m at least supposed to be a decent example for the young woman I hear in the living room who’s home for the weekend from college.
I pause, as I do most mornings, to think of the compassionate, stable parents who recently moved out of our country’s nice, big white house and of the bizarre babysitter who’s now in charge. I squeeze my eyes shut and hope for inspiration. Inspiration comes roaring back. The sound of millions of women who rallied past diapers and to-do lists, traveled thousands of miles, to march together all over the world last month. Millions of voices raised to protect what our grandmothers dreamed of, our mothers hoped for, what we earned and our girls will inherit.
I’m reminded that I can make a difference only if I get out of bed. The possibility propels me to my feet, into my sweatsuit, through two will-emboldening cups of coffee, a 26-grain piece of toast, and straight into Plan B.
Today, I declare, I’m beginning my own demonstration.
I march into the living room and boldly position myself between my 24-year-old daughter and the YouTube show she’s streaming on the 50-inch smart TV that takes up half the wall.
I want to show her how change can happen, so she isn’t afraid of everything else that’s happening now. To protect her by empowering her with an example of what one voice can do.
And so I hold this up: the beaming face of Mary Tyler Moore on the cover of a DVD set of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Mary just left us, at the age of 80, four days after the Women’s March on Washington. I want my daughter to know the connection.
“This is how I got here, baby,” I say, gripping the DVDs. “This is the woman who helped me rise up from the doughnut box when I was exactly the age you are today and go on.
“I know things seem impossible right now. People are on opposite sides and neither side can even stand to hear the other speak. But people were on opposite sides when I was your age, too. When I was 24, a young woman could either aspire to be a homemaking Betty Crocker or a militant Betty Friedan. We argued about things you can’t comprehend. Should a woman be allowed to have a job? If she got a job, should she be allowed to wear pants to the office? If she got married before 25, was she betraying the new career possibilities for which women had been fighting for a century? If she wasn’t married by 35, was she an old maid?”
My daughter stares. I haven’t explained this well at all. How is it possible I’ve been such a devoted, hovering mother and haven’t ever really explained how we got from then to now?
My daughter stares. I haven’t explained this well at all. How is it possible I’ve been such a devoted, hovering mother and haven’t ever really explained how we got from then to now?
I gained 40 pounds with one Betty’s Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix while trying to digest the other Betty’s Feminine Mystique.” I pointed to the box in my hand. “Mary Tyler Moore navigated the middle ground for me with a gentle grace. She was a bridge between worlds for so many of us who felt stuck with a foot – and a fork – on each side.
“Lots of my comic strips got passed around offices and posted on refrigerators,” I tell her. “But lots more got tucked into diaries and drawers. Women wrote me to say I made them feel they weren’t alone, and they reassured me I wasn’t alone either. We kept each other going, which opened doors for other women, which opened doors for other women, and on and on …”
My daughter, whose assumption that all doors all over the universe are open to her is so deeply ingrained it’s impossible for her to grasp a different reality, stares more blankly.
She’s too happy, I think. I marched in here to arm her with the tools to help her feel safe. Now I see that first I have to help her be more afraid. Does a mother ever get a moment off?
A lot has changed for her generation, but some things only look as if they’ve changed. My generation freed women from soul-suppressing girdles. Her generation proudly buys knee-to-chest Spanx. My generation liberated women from the 10 p.m. curfew and the good-night kiss at the door. Hers lives with the expectation of intimacy before love.
My generation demanded respect as equals in the workplace, and the right to not have to dress like a man to succeed. Her generation wears tiny skirts to business meetings and wrestles with the consequences of the conflicting messages they send with their self-respect perched on 4-inch heels. My generation championed the right of women to be proud of our beautiful, natural curves. And yet almost every single member of my daughter’s generation still sobs in the swimsuit department dressing room.
When I’m not wanting to strangle my daughter for her sense of entitlement, I want to wrap my arms around her for all the still-impossible choices she’ll have to make. Stay home with the baby and give up the chance to really pursue the career she’s studied so long for? Pursue the career and give up the chance to be with her baby full time for those first irreplaceable years? I still wake up in the middle of the night wondering how different my daughter’s life would have been if I’d spent all those hours drawing and coloring with her instead of drawing and coloring at my office. And even if the guilt weren’t there, or the biological urge, or the cultural norm, many women still earn less than men, so it’s often not a choice who will stay home.
Even with all my generation did to make it a better world, I am way more scared for her to navigate life as a grown-up than I was for myself. Our daughters have a universe of cyber-friends, but fewer real ones. They have instant access to information, but sometimes it helps them filter out only what they don’t want to see.
I hold the DVD set high. “You need to see this right now, honey, when so much of what’s been won for women feels threatened. You need to see what one, sometimes quivery, voice did to move millions. How minds and doors got opened by someone who found a way to gently, graciously shift things just enough so that people could imagine a different future. You need to know that every single one of us has the power to question everything.”
My daughter is fully present now. I’ve stirred something in her.
“I know you have questions, and I want to answer them all,” I say. “Ask me anything!”
“What’s a DVD, Mom?” she asks.
I smack Season 1 into the system, and wrap a loving arm around her shoulder so she can’t get up. I click “play” and am grateful, all over again, to have Mary here with me.
The Women's March in My Living Room
by Cathy Guisewite
Creator of the comic strip "Cathy."
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The Woman's March in My Living Room
by Cathy Guisewite
Creator of the comic strip "Cathy"
Good news on National Book Lovers Day: A chapter a day might keep the Grim Reaper away — at least a little longer.
A recent study by Yale University researchers, published online in the journal Social Science & Medicine, concluded that “book readers experienced a 20 percent reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow-up compared to non-book readers.”
The data was obtained from a longitudinal Health and Retirement Study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. The study looked at 3,635 subjects, all older than 50, whom the researchers divided into three groups: those who didn’t read books, those who read up to 3.5 hours a week and those who read more than 3.5 hours a week.
The findings were remarkable: Book readers survived almost two years longer than those who didn’t crack open a book.
Accounting for variables such as education level, income and health status, the study found that those who read more than 3.5 hours weekly were 23 percent less likely to die during that 12-year period. Those who read up to 3.5 hours — an average of a half-hour a day — were 17 percent less likely.
In other words, just like a healthy diet and exercise, books appear to promote a “significant survival advantage,” the authors concluded.
Why or how that’s the case remains unclear; the research showed only an association between book reading and longevity, not a causal relationship. But the findings are not so surprising. Other recent research showed that reading novels appears to boost both brain connectivity and empathy.
Book buying has increased annually during the past few years. At least 652 million print and electronic books were sold in the United States in 2015, according to Nielsen BookScan, the main data collector for the book publishing industry.
The bad news: Americans barely crack the top 25 when it comes to which countries read the most books. India, Thailand and China are ranked one, two and three by the World Culture Index, while the United States comes in 23rd, behind countries such as Egypt, Australia, Turkey and Germany.
Scientists say book lovers live longer than non-readers
IT is now official. Scholars have analyzed the data and confirmed what we already knew in our hearts. Social media is making us miserable.
We are all dimly aware that everybody else can’t possibly be as successful, rich, attractive, relaxed, intellectual and joyous as they appear to be on Facebook. Yet we can’t help comparing our inner lives with the curated lives of our friends.
Just how different is the real world from the world on social media? In the real world, The National Enquirer, a weekly, sells nearly three times as many copies as The Atlantic, a monthly, every year. On Facebook, The Atlantic is 45 times more popular.
Americans spend about six times as much of their time cleaning dishes as they do golfing. But there are roughly twice as many tweets reporting golfing as there are tweets reporting doing the dishes.
The Las Vegas budget hotel Circus Circus and the luxurious hotel Bellagio each holds about the same number of people. But the Bellagio gets about three times as many check-ins on Facebook.
The search for online status takes some peculiar twists. Facebook works with an outside company to gather data on the cars people actually own. Facebook also has data on the cars people associate with by posting about them or by liking them.
Owners of luxury cars like BMWs and Mercedeses are about two and a half times as likely to announce their affiliation on Facebook as are owners of ordinary makes and models.
In the United States, the desire to show off and exaggerate wealth is universal. Caucasians, Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans are all two to three times as likely to associate on Facebook with a luxury car they own than with a non-luxury car they own.
But different people in different places can have different notions of what is cool and what is embarrassing. Take musical taste. According to 2014 data from Spotify Insights on what people actually listen to, men and women have similar tastes; 29 of the 40 musicians women listened to most frequently were also the artists most frequently listened to by men.
On Facebook, though, men seem to underplay their interest in artists considered more feminine. For example, on Spotify, Katy Perry was the 10th most listened to artist among men, beating Bob Marley, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Wiz Khalifa. But those other artists all have more male likes on Facebook.
The pressure to look a certain way on social media can do much more than distort our image of the musicians other people actually listen to.
Sufferers of various illnesses are increasingly using social media to connect with others and to raise awareness about their diseases. But if a condition is considered embarrassing, people are less likely to publicly associate themselves with it.
Irritable bowel syndrome and migraines are similarly prevalent, each affecting around 10 percent of the American population. But migraine sufferers have built Facebook awareness and support groups two and a half times larger than I.B.S. sufferers have.
None of this behavior is all that new, although the form it takes is. Friends have always showed off to friends. People have always struggled to remind themselves that other people don’t have it as easy as they claim.
Think of the aphorism quoted by members of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.” Of course, this advice is difficult to follow. We never see other people’s insides.
I have actually spent the past five years peeking into people’s insides. I have been studying aggregate Google search data. Alone with a screen and anonymous, people tend to tell Google things they don’t reveal to social media; they even tell Google things they don’t tell to anybody else. Google offers digital truth serum. The words we type there are more honest than the pictures we present on Facebook or Instagram.
Sometimes the contrasts in different data sources are amusing. Consider how wives speak about their husbands.
On social media, the top descriptors to complete the phrase “My husband is …” are “the best,” “my best friend,” “amazing,” “the greatest” and “so cute.” On Google, one of the top five ways to complete that phrase is also “amazing.” So that checks out. The other four: “a jerk,” “annoying,” “gay” and “mean.”
While spending five years staring at a computer screen learning about some of human beings’ strangest and darkest thoughts may not strike most people as a good time, I have found the honest data surprisingly comforting. I have consistently felt less alone in my insecurities, anxieties, struggles and desires.
Once you’ve looked at enough aggregate search data, it’s hard to take the curated selves we see on social media too seriously. Or, as I like to sum up what Google data has taught me: We’re all a mess.
Now, you may not be a data scientist. You may not know how to code in R or calculate a confidence interval. But you can still take advantage of big data and digital truth serum to put an end to envy — or at least take some of the bite out of it.
Any time you are feeling down about your life after lurking on Facebook, go to Google and start typing stuff into the search box. Google’s autocomplete will tell you the searches other people are making. Type in “I always …” and you may see the suggestion, based on other people’s searches, “I always feel tired” or “I always have diarrhea.” This can offer a stark contrast to social media, where everybody “always” seems to be on a Caribbean vacation.
As our lives increasingly move online, I propose a new self-help mantra for the 21st century, courtesy of big data: Don’t compare your Google searches with other people’s Facebook posts.
WHAT IS SOCIAL MEDIA DOING TO US?
Smartphone Era Politics
by Roger Cohen
The time has come for a painful confession: I have spent my life with words, yet I am illiterate. I can ape the vocabulary of my times but it is not mine. Certain things I cannot say, only mouth.
I grew up with readers and, by extension, readership. The readers have vanished like migrating birds. They have been replaced by users and by viewers and by audience. The verbal experience has given way to the visual experience. Where pages were turned images are clicked. Words, those obdurate jewels, have been processed to form content, a commodity like any other. The letter has given way to the link.
I do not have the words to be at ease in this world of steep migration from desktop to mobile, of search-engine optimization, of device-agnostic bundles, of cascading metrics and dashboards and buckets, of post-print onboarding and social-media FOMO (fear of missing out).
I was more at home with the yarn du jour.
Jour was once an apt first syllable for the word journalism; hour would now be more appropriate. The yarn of the day, culled from the local press, was the foreign correspondent’s bread and butter. “Yesterday’s news, today’s story!”
That was in the time of distance. Disconnection equaled immersion. Today, connection equals distraction.
I read therefore I am. I am “liked” therefore I am. I am of the place I am in. I am of the device I inhabit. Talk to me. Facebook me. These are distinct ways of being. They lead to distinct ways of communicating.
We find ourselves at a pivot point. How we exist in relation to one another is in the midst of radical redefinition, from working to flirting. The smartphone is a Faustian device, at once liberation and enslavement. It frees us to be anywhere and everywhere — and most of all nowhere. It widens horizons. It makes those horizons invisible. Upright homo sapiens, millions of years in the making, has yielded in a decade to the stooped homo sapiens of downward device-dazzled gaze.
A smartphone is no longer enough. We must have a smart car and a smart home. Or so we are told. A low-I.Q. home feels good enough to me.
Perhaps this is how the calligrapher felt after 1440, when it began to be clear what Gutenberg had wrought. A world is gone. Another, as poor Jeb Bush (!) has discovered, is being born — one where words mean everything and the contrary of everything, where sentences have lost their weight, where volume drowns truth.
You have to respect American voters. They are changing the lexicon in their anger with the status quo. They don’t care about consistency. They care about energy. Reasonableness dies. Provocation works. Whether you are for or against something, or both at the same time, is secondary to the rise your position gets. Our times are unpunctuated. Politics, too, has a new language, spoken above all by the Republican front-runner as he repeats that, “There is something going on.”
Yes, there is something going on. The phrase resonates with people who feel they have somehow lost control. Stuck, they seek movement above all.
I am not alone in my illiteracy. All around me I see people struggling to understand, anxious they cannot keep up, outpaced by forces they cannot grasp. With knowledge of, and access to, the billions of people sharing the planet has come a new loneliness. How cold and callous is the little screen of our insidious temptation, working our fingers so hard to produce so little!
That acronym, FOMO, is used by Nir Eyal, a former game designer, in his book “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.” In it he describes the fear-of-missing-out mood that triggers people to turn and return to a successful app: “Feelings of boredom, loneliness, frustration, confusion, and indecisiveness often instigate a slight pain or irritation and prompt an almost instantaneous and often mindless action to quell the negative sensation.”
I nodded my head at this in Jacob Weisberg’s review in The New York Review of Books. In the same review, Weisberg writes, “Once out of bed, we check our phones 221 times a day — an average of every 4.3 minutes — according to a U.K. study.” He also notes that one thing young people don’t do on their smartphones “is actually speak to one another.”
This appears to be some form of addictive delirium. It is probably dangerous in some still unknowable way.
But if this is a confession, it is not a lament. Yes, I feel illiterate. Technology has upended not only newspapers. It has upended language itself, which is none other than a community’s system of communication. What is a community today? Can there be community at all with downward gazes? I am not sure. But I am certain that cross-platform content has its beauty and its promise if only I could learn the right words to describe them.