What's Your Problem?

Avoiding annihilation and other advice

By Jeffrey Goldberg

I am the editor of a 151-year-old American magazine. We are redesigning our publication in order to make it even more delightful and scintillating. But I’m stymied by our back page. It is important real estate, a place where readers expect to be enlightened and entertained. But I don’t know how best to fill it. Do you have any ideas for me?

Name Withheld
Washington, D.C.

Dear James,

I would suggest holding a cartoon-caption-writing contest.

I am 53 and have decided to chuck 30 years in the garment industry to become a high-school history teacher. Is one ever too old to make such a career change? What can a late-middle-aged rookie teacher expect?

Peter Hoelter
Los Angeles, California

Dear Peter,

Fifty-three is a fine age to make a change. Fifty-four is too late. One thing you should know: students today have a great deal of knowledge. This knowledge is wrong, because it comes from Wikipedia, but they know more wrong things than you did in high school. A word of caution: because of texting and cell-phone cameras, you will have no time at all to set your reputation. Before you finish teaching your first class, every student will know whether you are, to borrow a word the kids today may or may not use, a tool. Avoid this by remembering one thing: you are not their friend, you are their teacher. A little distance can produce great authority.

What does the existence of dark matter say about humanity’s place in the universe?

Nancy V. Lagana
British Columbia

Dear Nancy,

This is a cosmologically momentous question. A more manageable question is, how much dark matter do you carry around within you? And, how can you best foist that dark matter onto someone else? Dark matter, the presence of which is assumed by physicists because of the discrepancy between a galaxy’s gravitational effect and visible matter, should not be a worry. Antimatter, on the other hand, should. Antimatter particles—the doppelgängers of electrons and protons—annihilate themselves and their material “twins” upon contact. An antimatter meteorite might have been responsible for the Tunguska event, an explosion in 1908 that destroyed half a million acres of Siberian tundra. Antimatter sits atop the list of this column’s current concerns, along with salmonella-infested jalapeños and Vladimir Putin.

How long will it take for the convergence of television and computers to occur in a practical, in-the-home sense? I am reluctant to buy a new TV until I have a better idea of when this will happen.

Jane Ann Williams
New Paltz, New York

Dear Jane Ann,

In “The Transcendentalist,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “As thinkers, mankind have ever divided into two sects, Materialists and Idealists … The materialist insists on facts, on history, on the force of circumstances, and the animal wants of man; the idealist on the power of Thought and of Will, on inspiration, on miracle, on individual culture.”

But if you still want a big-screen plasma television, you will probably have at least three years, if not five, before a kitted-out digital living room becomes workable, and affordable.

This advice column is a bad idea. If I want advice I’ll ask a friend, or go online. Are you going to join in the trivializing of the media? Will horoscopes be far behind? You are watering down your brand!

Mildred Krebs
Russellville, Kentucky

Dear Mildred,

Please don’t worry. It’s not as if we’d put a photograph of Britney Spears on the cover.

To submit your question or request for advice, please e-mail advice@theatlantic.com. Include your full name and address.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/11/whats-your-problem/307066/