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Internet Trolls Have a Case of the Mondays

Internet Trolls Have a Case of the Mondays

A doozie of an article from the WSJ last week, provocatively titled, “We’re All Internet Trolls (Sometimes).” The piece highlights recent research out of Stanford and Cornell on the patterns and habits of internet trolling. Like any study of taboo topics, the research has its own missing pieces, but some of the findings are, frankly, revealing:

New research by computer scientists from Stanford and Cornell universities suggests this sort of thing—a generally reasonable person writing a post or leaving a comment that includes an attack or even outright harassment—happens all the time. The most likely time for people to turn into trolls?…

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Alexa, Now!

Alexa, Now!

Whenever a new technology comes on the scene, there’s always a bridge that needs to be built. That bridge is a cognitive bridge and it takes some powerful envisioning (and marketing!) to communicate that vision to the public. It is a bridge between what before was only manageable by human intuition and hard work, and what can now (supposedly) be entrusted to another. In short, every new technology today is a bridge from human agency to automation, a bridge that will deliver us from the toil of Egypt into the Promised Land, from the land of servitude and strife into…

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Alternative Faith: Click Crack, Fake News, and Good News

Alternative Faith: Click Crack, Fake News, and Good News

America has a Tweeter in Chief. The response is a seemingly unending stream of Facebook sites and posts and comments and likes and friending and unfriending. Drudge had a record month in January — over 1,000,000,000 hits.

Is “SEE-CLICK” rewiring our collective reality? Apple’s Tim Cook seems to think so:

“We are going through this period of time right here where unfortunately some of the people that are winning are the people that spend their time trying to get the most clicks, not tell the most truth,” Cook told the Daily Telegraph. “It’s killing people’s minds, in a way.”

I am typing this on an Apple…

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The Post-Millenials, or Generation X at the End of the World

The Post-Millenials, or Generation X at the End of the World

I do not read Revelation regularly. I’m scared of it. Not of the actual text, mind you — I’m scared of being overwhelmed by half-remembered theological positions and theories about eschatology. I’m skeptical that anything in the text is meant to be a prediction — thief in the night, etc. — but I’m neither biblically sophisticated nor spiritually courageous enough to actually read and contemplate what “the end of all things” does or should mean to me. Essentially, I’m stuck in a state of indecision and irony (i.e., my position is I don’t have one). My prophet clearing the way in…

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What Kids Can Teach Us About Screens

What Kids Can Teach Us About Screens

Devorah Heitner, who was interviewed on our podcast back in October, recently wrote an interesting article on the themes from her book, Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World. The kids in the piece demonstrate quite a grasp of the ambiguities and pitfalls of constant connectivity.

Heitner’s stance is that children are “digital natives” – this is the water they grow up swimming in. While generous towards their sometimes excessive usage, she also recognizes the hand of the Law in the social media landscape. Here, she addresses the tight-rope walk of curating an appealing online self-image: “Middle school…

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Time Precious Time: On Unread Emails and Productivity Panics

Time Precious Time: On Unread Emails and Productivity Panics

Our phones were piled on top of each other on the table near the charger. Not just mine and my wife’s but those of the four friends who had dropped by for dinner. People had been showing each other photos earlier in the evening and someone had suggested we leave our devices in the kitchen while we ate. How disciplined of us!

When it was time to go, the first guest grabbed the one on top, clicked it on and… nearly jumped out of her skin. The little number next to the email icon read “2448”. Needless to say, it was…

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Searching Low and High for the Who Behind The Who

Searching Low and High for the Who Behind The Who

A flurry of thinkpieces circulating at the moment about the dark side of identity politics—for reasons that should be fairly self-evident. Just before starting in on a contribution of my own, a guardian angel reminded me that I’d already spilled plenty of ink on that subject in The Who chapter of A Mess of Help, an earlier version of which appeared in the Identity Issue of The Mockingbird. Somehow that essay never made it onto the site. Well, no longer:

It was the mid-90s, and one of my older brother’s friends had decided to make our house a stop on…

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The Rising Tide of #selfharmmm

The Rising Tide of #selfharmmm

One of the clear refrains I’m hearing post-election has to do with the cost of virtual communication. We are only starting to come to terms with the degree to which our current climate of divisiveness has been amplified by the limitations of the Internet. Physical remove makes it (much) easier to dehumanize another person and (much) harder to empathize with them. Or, as we put it in the tech issue of The Mockingbird:

At its best, the disembodiment [of the web] engenders safety, the permission to engage with someone or something you otherwise find threatening, e.g., a Gospel that seems too…

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When Your Popularity Arc Takes a “Nosedive”

When Your Popularity Arc Takes a “Nosedive”

Last year’s Technology Issue published a list of TV Techno-Fables, the first show on the list being Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s exceedingly bleak anthology series, which just released its third season on Netflix this month. In the list we discussed that, despite The Twilight Zone comparison often thrown at Black Mirror, the show “does not contain a whiff of Rod Serling’s compassionate humanism.” In other words, if the show is as prophetic as it often feels, Brooker sees no hope entering the equation.

That was all before Season 3, though! Most things have not changed. As with all Black Mirror episodes,…

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Gchat Apologies and the Lonesome Cockpit

Gchat Apologies and the Lonesome Cockpit

In her new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Sherry Turkle invests a lot of ink in the distinction between connection and conversation. This is a distinction already rife with commentary, on this site and others, that while connection is the term of choice for LinkedIn partnerships and Facebook “friends,” it is bankrupt when it comes to the real subjectivity present in a conversation between two breathing people. Turkle argues that this transition away from conversation is, in turn, bankrupting us of the real meaning of connection. With the growth of internet communities, relationships are…

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A Confession About Children and Technology

A Confession About Children and Technology

I’ve tried to hold back from writing about screen time for kids. I’ve shied away from the topic because almost everyone I know allows their children to spend time on an iPad. I do not want people to feel guilty about their parenting choices. And I do not want to feel righteous about mine.

Recently, the all-knowing American Academy of Pediatrics said that children are spending 7 hours a day in front of a screen. Seven hours. That is more time than I spend in front of screen. And I write for a living. Worse than that, there is some discussion…

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Lay Down Your Smartphone and Follow Me? (Just a Second…)

Lay Down Your Smartphone and Follow Me? (Just a Second…)

I owe you an apology. Or at least a confession. Nine months after switching to a flip phone, and about six months after making a big stink about it, I went back to a smart one. I’m not proud.

What got me in the end wasn’t Internet itself. I stand by what I wrote about the cost, both personal and communal, of non-stop web access. I probably undersold it. What made me, er, flip back was two things: music and texts. They were the rationalization, in any case.

I realized about a month into the experiment that I wasn’t willing to live…

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