Tag: The New Yorker (page 1 of 4)

Should teenagers be using social media? We probably already know the answer

While I’m not a fan of Nicholas Carr’s approach to technology (“is Google making us stupid?”) I do have sympathy with Cal Newport’s more nuanced and considered approach.

Writing in The New Yorker, Newport considers whether we should be allowing teenagers to use social media at all. By this, he doesn’t mean the ‘social internet’, which I explore further in this post.

Our son turns 15 soon and while we’ve grudgingly allowed him to use WhatsApp (I don’t use any Facebook Meta products) he isn’t allowed an Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok account. Digital parenting is a thing.

I’m not sure, however, that we should be so quick to give up on interrogating the necessity of these technologies in our lives, especially when they impact the well-being of our children. In an attempt to keep this part of the conversation alive, I reached out to four academic experts—selected from both sides of the ongoing debate about the harm caused by these platforms—and asked them, with little preamble or instruction, the question missing from so much of the recent coverage of the Facebook revelations: Should teen-agers use social media? I wasn’t expecting a consensus response, but I thought it was important, at the very least, to define the boundaries of the current landscape of expert opinion on this critical issue.

[…]

For a particularly dispiriting case study of how long it sometimes takes to establish definitive causation between behaviors and negative outcomes, consider the effort involved in connecting smoking to lung cancer. The first major study showing a statistical correlation between cigarettes and cancer, authored by Herbert Lombard and Carl Doering of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Harvard School of Public Health, was published in 1928. I recently came across an article in the archives of The Atlantic from 1956—nearly thirty years later—in which the author was still trying to convince skeptics who were unhappy with the types of confounding factors that are unavoidable in scientific studies. “If it has not been proved that tobacco is guilty of causing cancer of the lung,” the article pleads, “it has certainly been shown to have been on the scene of the crime.”

[…]

What is obvious, however, is that regardless of what answers we end up with, we need to keep debating these fundamental questions. As Zuckerberg emphasized in his defensive post, he wants us to concede that his products are inevitable, and that we have no choice but to move on to discussing their features and safeguards. We might think we’re really sticking it to these social-media giants when we skewer their leaders in congressional hearings, or write scathing commentary pieces about the shortcomings of their moderation policies, but, in some sense, this response provides a reprieve because it sidesteps the conversation that these companies are trying hardest to avoid: the conversation about whether, in the end, the buzzy, digital baubles they offer are really worth all the trouble they’re creating.

Source: The Question We’ve Stopped Asking About Teen-Agers and Social Media | The New Yorker

Kith and kin

This is a great article about how the internet was going to save us from TV and now we’re looking for something to save us from the internet. What we actually need are stronger and deeper relationships with the people around us — our kith and kin.

We are conditioned to care about kin, to take life’s meaning from the relationships with those we know and love. But the psychological experience of fame, like a virus invading a cell, takes all of the mechanisms for human relations and puts them to work seeking more fame. In fact, this fundamental paradox—the pursuit through fame of a thing that fame cannot provide—is more or less the story of Donald Trump’s life: wanting recognition, instead getting attention, and then becoming addicted to attention itself, because he can’t quite understand the difference, even though deep in his psyche there’s a howling vortex that fame can never fill.

This is why famous people as a rule are obsessed with what people say about them and stew and rage and rant about it. I can tell you that a thousand kind words from strangers will bounce off you, while a single harsh criticism will linger. And, if you pay attention, you’ll find all kinds of people—but particularly, quite often, famous people—having public fits on social media, at any time of the day or night. You might find Kevin Durant, one of the greatest basketball players on the planet, possibly in the history of the game—a multimillionaire who is better at the thing he does than almost any other person will ever be at anything—in the D.M.s of some twenty something fan who’s talking trash about his free-agency decisions. Not just once—routinely! And he’s not the only one at all.

There’s no reason, really, for anyone to care about the inner turmoil of the famous. But I’ve come to believe that, in the Internet age, the psychologically destabilizing experience of fame is coming for everyone. Everyone is losing their minds online because the combination of mass fame and mass surveillance increasingly channels our most basic impulses—toward loving and being loved, caring for and being cared for, getting the people we know to laugh at our jokes—into the project of impressing strangers, a project that cannot, by definition, sate our desires but feels close enough to real human connection that we cannot but pursue it in ever more compulsive ways.

Source: On the Internet, We’re Always Famous | The New Yorker

The Great Reckoning

When I was a teacher and school senior leader in my twenties I worked all the hours. Not only that, but I was writing my doctoral thesis and we had a young baby. I’ve never worked so hard or be so close to burnout.

Since switching to being based from a home office in 2012 my life has been transformed. With no commute and no planning, preparation, and assessment, I’m paid for the time I actually work. And since 2017 and setting up a co-op, I’m jointly in charge of the means of production as well.

As Cal Newport writes in The New Yorker, others are cottoning-on to these advantages since the pandemic, leading to a wave of resignations.

These people are generally well-educated workers who are leaving their jobs not because the pandemic created obstacles to their employment but, at least in part, because it nudged them to rethink the role of work in their lives altogether. Many are embracing career downsizing, voluntarily reducing their work hours to emphasize other aspects of life.

Words

Many well-compensated but burnt-out knowledge workers have long felt that their internal ledger books were out of balance: they worked long hours, they made good money, they had lots of stuff, they were exhausted, and, above all, they saw no easy options for changing their circumstances. Then came shelter-in-place orders and shuttered office buildings. This particular class of workers were thrown into their own Zoom-equipped versions of Walden Pond. Diversion and entertainment were stripped down to basic forms, and it became difficult to spend more than the cost of a Netflix subscription or batch of sourdough starter to keep occupied. The absence of visits with friends and family reinforced the value of social connection. The unceasing presence of video conferencing and e-mail enhanced the Kafkaesque superfluousness of many of the activities that dominated the pre-pandemic workday. This class of workers was suddenly staring at the proverbial cabin and wondering if a copper pump would really be worth the labor required to cultivate another acre.

Source: Why Are So Many Knowledge Workers Quitting? | The New Yorker