Technology is Ruining Our Lives.
Aggregating any collection of news in this climate is like helplessly swatting at a particularly angry swarm of killer bees with a flip flop. You’re just hoping that at least one of the bees is just not in the mood to end a human life today- or even better, is already dead. Not only is there very little good news, there is very little news that does not feel like it has trickled from the gates of the underworld to signal the impending apocalypse (or from the lair of Kellywise, shared with a captive Anderson Cooper). It’s all really, really bad.
In each of the 6+ daily email newsletters I subscribe to, the curators mercifully throw in little kernels of humor and hope where they can in order to quell the sinking fear that we are all doomed- if even for a little while. (Not in a newsletter, but of note is John Oliver’s brilliant choice to pump the personality of a Long Island body builder hopped up on Muscle Milk leaving his fourth Crossfit class of the day into a Pumpkin Spice Latte.) So I am going to follow suit in Haut Takes. It would be irresponsible to put our minds into a panic room of compartmentalization and ignore the news altogether, but we all deserve a break every now and again. I hope you will find at least one kernel of hope and humor in Haut Takes this week.
I. Making a masterpiece from the mundane: I took a writing class at Catapult in NYC this past weekend. It’s title: Normcore non-fiction Bootcamp It’s Instructor: An author named Chloe Caldwell who has published two books of personal essays. It’s (predictable) attendees: sixteen, mostly white women in their 20s with hip tattoos (Hi!), one native New Yorker in her 70s named Moira who kept a cigarette tucked behind her ear for the entire class and wrote exclusively on a yellow legal pad, and one actual college student (she was literally 19, posted at least one Instagram during class and spoke often of her internship at Planned Parenthood in Ohio where she spent most of her time invasively mining its apparently open database for her professor’s registered party affiliations). It was the world’s most specifically strange echo chamber.
A lot of writing read aloud was more than one shade of Lena Dunham, but it was fun. All four prompts focused on the idea that life’s smallest details can become incredibly powerful non-fiction. Here are the four prompts we worked with. If you are bored, or just want to write- this is a fun way to fill the time. Allotted time is included for each:
- Write your own “What I won’t miss/ What I will miss” list. Based on Nora Ephron’s example. Interpret and craft however you want. (8 Minutes) Mine is at the bottom of the newsletter, Moira called it “superior”. (Side note: Lists are so powerful and underused as a medium! Just sayin’.)
- We watched this YouTube video chronicling how Louis C.K. writes a joke (It’s so great). Then we had 12 minutes to write a 207-word joke, the premise being something funny that happened to us recently. Mine needs to be told in person, but the premise is my inability to understand that a coffee shop only offers cashew or coconut milk as options and the barista’s equally confused response (#wholemilklattesforlyfe).
- From Mary Karr’s Art of the Memoir: Consider a life event you’ve written about before, that’s the main event. Make a list of three things that were also happening at the time of the main event. Choose one and write an essay about it. The idea being that we often inflate traumatic or colossal events so much that any simultaneous happenings fade to black. The accompanying events remain untouched, and therefore can be seen through fresh eyes. (15 minutes- you likely won’t finish, so write the whole thing if you want!)
- Write a “Letter of Recommendation” similar to those featured in the New York Times Magazine’s column of the same name. We read Mary H.K. Choi’s amazingly sardonic recommendation for La Croix. My recommendation: Mane n’ Tail Shampoo and Conditioner. Made for horses, meant for humans. (10 Minutes)
II. Technology: We definitely live with it, but should we live without it?: I think about technology a lot, and have a conflicting relationship with it. I feel the powerful pull of my iPhone’s blue light (which apparently inhibits the production of Melatonin the chemical that induces sleep. So stop looking at your phone before bed, Alexis!) but whenever the attendants at the CVS on 19th street encourage me to use the self-check-out I scoff at them as if I am Moira from my writing class and my arthritic fingers lack the dexterity to select credit or debit. I appreciate the way it has made my life easier and more enjoyable (I fully believe I am chemically dependent on the pops of Millennial Pink that comandeer my Insta feed), but am terrified of being dependent on it and refuse to buy a Kindle (sorry, Hailey).
And for what it’s worth, I’ve never spoken to Siri, think “home assistants” are invasive, enabling listening devices (to bolster my argument, read this Android Police reporter’s chronicle of his week where Big Brother aka the Google Home Mini recorded thousands of hours of conversations in his home without him knowing), and think Alexa is a bitch who needs to realize that when I am in the room, NO ONE is talking to her.
This week I’ve included two articles that represent technology’s ever reaching grip on our society. But first, the quote below from this Malcolm Gladwell editorial on self-driving cars in Car and Driver reflects a relevant theme of both:
“…In any period of technological transition, what proves vexing is not the technology itself. It’s working out the details, rules and social expectations around the technology.” Malcolm Gladwell
In case you haven’t heard, online dating is totally a big deal: This MIT Technology Review Article, powerfully titled “First Evidence that Online Dating is Changing the Nature of Society” summarizes the findings of an MIT study of the impact of online dating. The study surveys how married couples from the 1940s through present day met their partners* see chart below*. The article is not numerically specific, but gives general conclusions. Here is a summary of the findings:
- “Online dating is now the second most common way for heterosexual couples to meet. For homosexual couples, it is far and away the most popular.
- In typical social networks, people are strongly connected to a small group of people, and loosely connected to other, more distant people. The introduction of online dating has added an infinite number of “loose ties” to people we otherwise may never have met, and are likely more compatible with.
- Most notably, the introduction of more loose links increases the occurrence of interracial marriages. Since the links are farther reaching, users are introduced to many more people of different ethnic groups than they otherwise would be. The model predicts complete racial integration if the numbers of online daters continue to rise.
But why can’t we put down our phones? We have all seen the headlines. We are addicted to our phones (the average person checks their hone 2,167 times a day, leaving us in a state of ‘continuous partial attention”). We all have felt the specter of a purposely tucked away smartphone calling our name as we fight to focus on a real book for once. This article more carefully considers why this addiction exists and what its consequences might be. Published in The Guardian two weeks ago, it is titled ‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smart phone dystopia. Despite its doomsday title and reference to the most played out genre of young adult literature, it is well reasoned and readably paced.
What makes it most compelling, in my opinion, is its soundbites from past big tech engineers from Google, Facebook and Twitter who are responsible for creating those sites most notable features. (Think: the woman who invented the ‘like’ button on Facebook- the first on any social media platform, the man behind GChat, another responsible for changing the notification button on Facebook from blue to red, and another who adapted a small app’s pull to refresh feature that Twitter made ubiquitous). All are now in their mid 30s and have since left their former employers, are filled with worry about the impact of their inventions, and have harshly restricted their own use of technology (some good tips for doing so included in the article) in order to avoid its known psychological effects. (An interesting and ironic little tidbit, many Silicon Valley engineers send their children to private schools in the area that ban the use of electronics in the building to shield them from the technology their parents created). Here are some important points, but I think the entire article is worth it:
- The engineers and the article’s author are careful to note that the creators of Facebook, Google, Twitter and other influential platforms started them with positive intent. And they all include incredibly helpful features that have improved our quality of life. However, these platforms soon morphed into something unrecognizable (see related article from NY Mag about Zuck’s trouble to understand the company he created) as they shifted to meet the demand of the “attention economy”, an internet shaped to meet the demands of advertisers. So platforms began collecting data about its users using the “like” buttons that were supposedly created innocuously to tell your friends that you think they are awesome and all their content is incredibly cool and worth posting online. The “liking” features linked engineers and product managers to data goldmines they could then sell to advertisers. In turn, they curate an individual experience for each user depending on their perceived interests. (The algorithm has gotten so strong that, horrifyingly, Facebook can tell when a user feels “insecure” or “worthless” and needs some sort of “confidence boost”.)
- Near its conclusion, the article poses the question “If Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are gradually chipping away at our ability to control our own minds, could there be a point at which democracy no longer functions?” Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election hints at a potentially grim answer. The addictive design features of these apps allow our brain to adapt to responding to impulse and emotion over nuance and reasoning. As a result, news outlets are increasingly created explosive and sensationalized click bait to keep up. We are no longer choosing what information we interact with, it is chosen for us.
My advice? be a critical consumer, question the apps we give our attention to 2,167 times a day and employ these same tricks as the ashamed engineers in this article who don't even let their kids use iphones.
III. Best Read of the Week: It has become increasingly clear since the sucker punch of last November that the New York Times is trying to illuminate its blind spot that appears to cover the entire center of the country. In last week’s Sunday Edition they succeeded valiantly. The article entitled, “Work freed her. Then it moved to Mexico”, chronicles the closing of the Rexnord Corporation’s headquarters in Indianapolis through the eyes of a specialized steelworker named Shannon Mulcahy. It is an incredible piece of reporting. It represents the NYT (and all great journalism) at its best: an analysis of a much-discussed societal issue through the perspective of someone who is actually living it. I am in awe of the reporting of its author Farah Stockman, and also a little jealous. Shannon’s story lends a much-needed dose of humanity to the ever-present headlines advertising that yet another beacon of American industry is moving overseas. Empathy for Shannon, her family, her coworkers, her neighbors and her the Mexican workers hired to replace her enveloped throughout the article’s five full-color pages. I was also simultaneously angry at an economy that allows detached stockbrokers to see the Rexnard company as “nothing more than three letters on a page- RXN- with an arrow pointing up or down” and make a decision that will affect thousands. Anyway, enough gushing. Here is a little bit of context and the most eye-opening aspects. But, if you have time please read the whole thing!
- Like many other skilled blue-collar workers in our country, Shannon did not graduate from high school but has earned a decent living working at Rexnard over the past 17 years (about $25/hr). Like probably some others, she has faced an incredible number of setbacks including an abusive ex-husband and is responsible for financially supporting her son’s disabled child. Unlike many other blue-collar workers, Shannon is a woman. Predictably, she faced her share of sexual harassment and doubt that comes with being a woman in any workplace (#metoo). She stuck it out and worked her ass off to become one of the plant’s highest paid workers. It gave her a sense of self-worth and purpose. And like all the others, she is unsure how she will make ends meet now that Rexnard is closed.
- Rexnard acquired Link-Belt the nation’s leading manufacturer of reliable steel bearings, used as the foundation in a variety of structures from sports stadiums to sky scrapers. Shannon played an integral role in the bearing creation. She was the only worker who knew how to operate a temperamental machine called the Tucco that used both heat and ice cold water to seal the bearings in place. In 2016, Rexnard announced it was moving its headquarters to Monterrey, Mexico- prompting Trump to use it as an exemplar of the destruction of the American working class by infiltrating foreigners in a campaign speech last year. Many Rexnard employees held out futile hope that Trump would save their jobs. And for Haut Takes’ second spoiler alert of the week, he didn’t. The factory closed for good last month. Shannon is still searching for permanent work.
- To me, the most interesting aspect of this article was the coverage of the interaction between the American workers and their Mexican replacements. Several Mexican workers travelled to Indianapolis to be trained by current Rexnard employees. Most Rexnard employees refused to train them, despite being offered large training bonuses. Those who chose to train their replacements were shunned. This included Shannon. She needed the money and she did not hold anything against these new workers, for she believes they are simply seizing a new employment opportunity. She agreed to train them. She learned from two men specifically taking over her specialized role, Ricardo and Tadeo, that none of the Mexican workers had been informed that they were taking American jobs. They were falsely informed by Rexnard executives that the Monterrey plant was opening as an ADDITION to the Indianapolis headquarters. She also learned that in Mexico, Rexnard could afford to pay “16 Ricardos for the cost of one Shannon.” Shannon worked hard to teach these men the nuances of the machine and was told she would receive $5,000, a passport and a free trip to Mexico. I’ll let you read the article to find out the rest.
IV. Music: I’ll throw technology a bone here and recognize one of its more redeeming features, Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist (Side Note: Do you guys think I can get Spotify to sponsor Haut Takes?) This article and this one reveal how the streaming titan curates your personalized playlist each week. Don’t read if you’d rather live in the reality that musical elves carefully slide each song in a purposeful order like a Jenga block inserting itself into your soul.
Also, Dvsn- an R and B duo under the OVO umbrella dropped their remixes of SZA’s “The Weekend” and Biebs’ “Friends” on OVOSound Radio over the weekend. Find them here.
VI. Miscellaneous: Two women are currently attempting to break the Guinness record for running across the country (Rosie and Linds, is it you?) in the shortest period of time (current record for the 2,850 mile run is 69 days). Both woman started in California in September and will end in NYC. Both are on pace to smash the record. Read about their incredible quests here on ESPNW.
And finally, you can now get this on a t-shirt. Because, enough is enough.
What I won’t miss…
The daily anxiety of being late
the overwhelming number of nut milks available
attacks on dairy, gluten, and other previously accepted food sources
the inevitable loneliness that arrives 2-3 days after a long anticipated event is over
the response “it’s so cute when you…”
that really obnoxious shark on shark tank
What I will miss
exercise, all kinds
the heat of the sun after being inside for too long
coffee, in the form of a whole milk latte
long nights with friends drinking wine
pretending like I know about wine
pretending like I’m listening when other people talk about wine
the impatient excitement of a plane ride towards a long anticipated vacation
holding a physical book
not sleeping when I know I should
New York Magazine
chocolate covered almonds
eating takeout and chocolate covered almonds while watching prestige television
hearing a great new song for the first time
hearing a great old song for the hundredth time
introducing a new friend to a great song
the ability to start over