Technology
When Smartphones Get Too Smart

When Smartphones Get Too Smart

Well, this is pretty amusing. Writing for The Atlantic, James Carmichael explored our precarious relationship with self-knowledge via the awkwardness of Google Now. I’m almost surprised he didn’t quote Eliot’s line about humankind not being able to bear much reality (or law). I mean, some of us can’t even handle looking at our most-played in iTunes, I’d hate to think what kind of revelations a ‘smart’ tracking device might hold (e.g. “it’s 10:45pm! – Time to secretly gorge on your kids’ snack food”, “Beep beep beep! It has now been eighty seconds since you last checked your web stats”, etc)….

Read More »

The Nerdy Pharisees

The Nerdy Pharisees

When I was in college, a group of pledges from one of the socially-elite fraternities on campus painted “NERDS” in large capital letter on the roof of my fraternity’s house. It was a pejorative statement.

Until that act of vandalism, we didn’t know that we were nerds. We dressed nicely. We drank a lot. We were involved in campus activities. We weren’t the glasses-wearing, teetotaling, social pariahs portrayed in movies like Revenge of the Nerds. We were nice people.

But our niceness was precisely what made us nerds. The ever-evolving landscape of social distinctions can be difficult to discern. And, unless you’re one of…

Read More »

Identity, Ass, and the Wrong Context

Identity, Ass, and the Wrong Context

Emily Newton on the new phenomenon of social media anonymity, and the teenage quest for a powerful new name.

Another Week Ends: Electroshock Silence, MMO Addiction, Little Miss Perfect, Novel Tweets, Dawkins Hubris, Weird Dylan and Mad Max

Another Week Ends: Electroshock Silence, MMO Addiction, Little Miss Perfect, Novel Tweets, Dawkins Hubris, Weird Dylan and Mad Max

1. Buried in a weekender earlier this month, you may have seen the, er, shocking report of a study conducted at UVA (of all places!) that found that “People Prefer Electric Shocks to Being Alone With Their Thoughts.” If you dismissed it as classic social science clickbait, Lord knows you’d have our sympathy. But it would appear the findings were for real. In an article for The NY Times this week, Kate Murphy expanded on them substantially, folding in a number of our hobby horses along the way (compulsive busyness, over-distraction, Romans 7, even male underachievement), while curiously missing a golden opportunity…

Read More »

For He Gives to His Beloved Sleep (Mode)

For He Gives to His Beloved Sleep (Mode)

What happens when we lose the final frontier? A look into the necessary uselessness of sleep.

The Difference Between the Prophecies of Orwell and Huxley

A provocative quote from the introduction to Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, ht VH:

brawndo2“Contrary to common belief even among the educated, [Aldous] Huxley and [George] Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’ In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

Empathy and True Emotion in The Facebook Mood Experiment

Empathy and True Emotion in The Facebook Mood Experiment

A couple weeks ago, it was revealed that back in January 2012, Facebook ran a week long experiment on a small subset of unknowing users that has been dubbed “The Facebook Mood Experiment.” Facebook altered the status updates that these unwitting users saw and skewed them either more negatively (i.e. they saw more updates with sadder emotional content) or more positively (saw updates with happier emotional content). The experiment wanted to see if the content people saw their friends posting on Facebook affected their actual mood. It concluded that it did. The Atlantic breaks down the design of the experiment…

Read More »

Seven Signs Romans 7 Applies to You Perfectly (Look at Number 4!)

Seven Signs Romans 7 Applies to You Perfectly (Look at Number 4!)

You know you didn’t want to click this. You saw it and let out a wail of despair that Mockingbird is resorting to “click-bait” headlines, but you saw the adorable puppy as the featured image and clicked anyway. So now here you are.

“Click-bait” is a tactic used by all different kinds of websites (perfected by Buzzfeed and Upworthy) to inflate page views and Facebook shares. These raw statistics make a site more attractive to advertisers and drive revenue for a site. I’ve definitely succumbed to these. They aren’t inherently bad, but when I waste away a good chunk of my…

Read More »

Yes, You Are Communicating Wrong (And No, You Will Not Like This Post)

Yes, You Are Communicating Wrong (And No, You Will Not Like This Post)

Des: Aren’t you a bit of a cad for leaving town with your girlfriend in the hospital?

Jimmy: It might look that way. I’ve been through this before. After graduation Laurie and I were going to break up, but the same day she came down with terrible back spasms. I hung around the hospital all summer, almost bankrupted her parents, and as soon as I left town she recovered. By going away and putting an ocean between us, i.e. making a definitive break, Charlotte’s likely to recover much faster.

Des: What makes you think that putting…

Read More »

Which Game of Thrones Character Are You? No, Really.

Which Game of Thrones Character Are You? No, Really.

Night and day for months now, one single question has nagged at the back and front recesses of my troubled mind. I go to sleep thinking about it, mull over it while sipping my morning coffee, and try not to let it get in the way of my day-to-day business of being a semi-attentive stay-at-home mom. The Question: If I were a character on HBO’s Game of Thrones, who would I be?

This question is essential because right now I am sitting on the couch while my ten-month old son takes his afternoon nap. I spent the first half an hour…

Read More »

The Selfie on the Mount

The Selfie on the Mount

Instagram enhances Facebook’s most essential quality.

Facebook allows you to keep in touch with old “friends,” but keeping in touch means subjecting yourself to climate-change rants from that girl who failed biology in high school, college football highlight videos from that guy who never went to college, and (if you’re friends with me) shameless plugging of Mockingbird blog posts. But we subject ourselves to this cacophony for one reason and one reason only: So we can see their pictures.

Their pictures allow us to establish our place in the hierarchy. Her kids are cuter than mine, but mine are way cuter than his….

Read More »

Forgetting the Right to Be Forgotten

Forgetting the Right to Be Forgotten

There’s likely no such thing as the right to be forgotten. So why are we talking about it?

In the sixth grade, I opportunistically backstabbed one of my friends; the story reads like an appendix to a middle-school The Prince. I’d had a crush on a girl for three long weeks (give or take), and one of my two best friends, we’ll call him Phil, started ‘going out’ with her almost at random, I think after one of those weekend field trips which always seemed to break apart cliques, form new ones, and breathe fresh life into the daily math-science-history routine. The…

Read More »

Another Week Ends: The Age of Forgiveness, Hollywood Denials, Good Fathers, Real Time Internet, Streakers, Sister Cristina, and Summer Camp Grace

Another Week Ends: The Age of Forgiveness, Hollywood Denials, Good Fathers, Real Time Internet, Streakers, Sister Cristina, and Summer Camp Grace

1. Turns out we’ve been writing quite a bit about memory and regret these past few months. Not sure why exactly–most of the posts predate the Google fracas happening in Europe–other than it feels like a fresh way into the old story. Just last week Bryan J. highlighted a piece of commentary worth revisiting, Giles Fraser’s prediction that “the internet generation will be a lot better at forgiveness than older people”. One can’t help but admire the optimism, or rather, envy it, ht RW:

For if we are going to find it more and more difficult to forget, then we are…

Read More »

What Do Dave Eggers, Dirty Toes and Shampoo Have in Common?

What Do Dave Eggers, Dirty Toes and Shampoo Have in Common?

If God was interested in being clean, I wonder if he might have stalled the incarnation a millennium or two until the days of close-toed shoes or indoor plumbing. He would then have had the fortune of choosing from fifty different kinds of shampoo at Kroger, or the experience of a soothing pedicure to rinse out the Palestinian dirt from under his thick yellow toenails.

Cultural progression, it seems to me, moves increasingly anti-dirt. Dave Eggers’ newest book, The Circle, focuses on a not-so distant future in which the latest form of social media, TruYou, has usurped all other internet big…

Read More »

Social Un-Networking

Social Un-Networking

There are a couple of interesting tidbits for thought coming from the social media side of things. The electronic communities that have promised us relationships in this ever-fragmenting age are now enabling us to disconnect. First, The New Yorker recently informed many of us of an app called Cloak. Its purpose? Unlike other social media apps that help you “connect” with people, this one alerts you to the locations of your followers so that you can avoid them. (Yep, you read that correctly.) And then Twitter announced this month that they are introducing a new “mute” feature to enable a stealthy exit from following…

Read More »