To hear the subjects talk about it, you'd think they'd discovered a new law of physics. Shocking as it might seem, it turns out that if you're not live-blogging or tweeting or reporting on an event as it unfolds--and you know that nobody is going to quote you or write about the event after the fact--you act and experience an event quite differently. "You actually listen to the conversation, not just wait for your turn to speak," marveled a blogger who, the New York Times reported in a recent article, has begun organizing strictly off-the-record gatherings in New York.
The difference between reporting an event (or performing for reporters) and simply experiencing an event or conversation is one journalists learn very early. Twenty years ago, when I got my first job as an aviation journalist and was assigned to cover air shows, my pilot friends were green with envy. I was going to get paid for what they'd do for free. But reporting on an event is very, very different from simply experiencing it. It turns you from a participant into an observer. You have to step back and gauge what facts are the most important to gather; what story line you're going to pursue. The same is true for photographers. The eye of a photographer is an analytical one; judging the best angle, best light, best focal length in a world reduced to whatever narrow slice is visible through a view-finder. Real-time impressions and emotion are sacrificed for a lasting, illustrative image. There is a cost to recording an event; a cost paid in removal from full immersion or enjoyment of the moment as it actually happens.
By the same token, there's a night-and-day difference between a public versus a private conversation. Any journalist, spokesperson or politician could tell you that. So could anyone who has spent much time watching cable television pundits talk past each other in mind-numbing diatribes sparked by the presence of cameras and their attendant promise of publicity and notoriety.
But it used to be that only certain professionals understood, or had to struggle with, the downsides of either recording events, or being the subject of a recorded event. Now, almost everyone is getting a taste of it, thanks to the prolific spread of blogging, Facebook, twitter and other mass publication vehicles. And--thanks God, as my Italian neighbors would say--some of them are beginning to realize that the sword has two sides. That perhaps not everything has to be, or even should be, transmitted instantly into the universal, public realm.
There are many things to applaud about a world where more people can have voices and communication among groups is easier. Twitter proved an invaluable tool in aiding the protesters in Iran with regards to public gatherings and police movements. And the mass proliferation of blogs reminds me, at least in some ways, of the dawning of the cable television era, when niche groups suddenly found programming targeted specifically to them.
There's also nothing inherently evil about any of the new communication methods or technologies. But most advances come with some kind of tradeoff, and anything used to excess begins to be problematic--as some people are beginning to find out with an all-shared, all-the-time, lifestyle. One clear issue is preservation of privacy--especially for those who didn't volunteer to be part of a global chat-room. But living a reported life 24 hours a day also has a cost, not only in terms of the type and quality of the interactions and conversations it allows, but also in terms of how present the reporters are in any given moment.
It's possible to both experience and report an event, but not instantaneously or simultaneously. When I had an assignment to fly a a U-2 spy plane last fall, high enough to see the curvature of the earth, I got so preoccupied with taking photos and notes that I realized, part-way through the flight, that I wasn't actually experiencing any of it with any real depth. And to write anything of substance, I needed to first experience something of substance. So I turned off my intercom microphone, put the camera down, and just sat for a while. Looked out the window. Focused on what my senses were experiencing. Let my mind wander and my eyes drink in my surroundings. And in the richness of that silence, impressions softly bloomed. Of how fragile the world's atmosphere appeared. How being that high above the earth felt as if we were surreptitious invaders at the edge of a foreign realm ruled by powerful titans who needed no heat, air pressure or oxygen to survive. Of how lonely even a beautiful planet would be without anyone to welcome you home again.
And even those thoughts, put so cleanly into words here, took time to process and ferment, once I came back to earth.
New technology is all well and good. But the fact remains that it's tough to talk and listen at the same time, or be connected to an outside audience (even that of posterity) and still be fully immersed in the place, time, and dynamic of where you are. And that's a long-standing law of physics--or at least of human neuroscience and psychology--that I doubt any new technology is likely to overcome.
Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city's publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city's police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview.
The citizens who live in West Baltimore, where the rioting began, intuitively understand this. I grew up across the street from Mondawmin Mall, where today's riots began. My mother was raised in the same housing project, Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was killed. Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution. People write these feelings off as wholly irrational at their own peril, or their own leisure. The case against the Baltimore police, and the society that superintends them, is easily made:
Freddie Gray's death on April 19 leaves many unanswered questions. But it is clear that when Gray was arrested in West Baltimore on the morning of April 12, he was struggling to walk. By the time he arrived at the police station a half hour later, he was unable to breathe or talk, suffering from wounds that would kill him.*
Gray died Sunday from spinal injuries. Baltimore authorities say they're investigating how the 25-year-old was hurt—a somewhat perverse notion, given that it was while he was in police custody, and hidden from public view, that he apparently suffered injury. How it happened remains unknown. It's even difficult to understand why officers arrested Gray in the first place. But with protestors taking to the streets of Baltimore since Gray's death on Sunday, the incident falls into a line of highly publicized, fatal encounters between black men and the police. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a reserve sheriff's deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, pleaded not guilty to a second-degree manslaughter charge in the death of a man he shot. The deputy says the shooting happened while he was trying to tase the man. Black men dying at the hands of the police is of course nothing new, but the nation is now paying attention and getting outraged.
In Baltimore, where 25-year-old Freddie Gray died shortly after being taken into police custody, an investigation may uncover homicidal misconduct by law enforcement, as happened in the North Charleston, South Carolina, killing of Walter Scott. Or the facts may confound the darkest suspicions of protestors, as when the Department of Justice released its report on the killing of Michael Brown.
What's crucial to understand, as Baltimore residents take to the streets in long-simmering frustration, is that their general grievances are valid regardless of how this case plays out. For as in Ferguson, where residents suffered through years of misconduct so egregious that most Americans could scarcely conceive of what was going on, the people of Baltimore are policed by an entity that perpetrates stunning abuses. The difference is that this time we needn't wait for a DOJ report to tell us so. Harrowing evidence has been presented. Yet America hasn't looked.
Does Adam Sandler have an expiration date? Does his particular brand of slapstick—humor that's infused with a wan self-deprecation, that manages to be simultaneously silly and sociopathic, that once found Sandler punching Bob Barker in the face while informing him that "the price is wrong, bitch"—hold up? Is Sandler's own price now, finally, wrong?
Recent events would suggest yes. Late last week, in the course of filming Sandler's newest project, the made-for-Netflix Western spoof The Ridiculous 6, a Native-American cultural advisor and several performers and extras walked off the set in protest. (Sample characters: Beaver Breath, No Bra, Sits-on-Face. Sample line: "Say honey: how about after this, we go someplace and I put my peepee in your teepee?") As Allison Young, a Navajo actress who quit after being asked to do a scene "requiring her to fall down drunk, surrounded by jeering white men who rouse her by dousing her with more alcohol" told the Indian Country Media Network, “We talked to the producers about our concerns. They just told us, ‘If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave.’”
Atheism is intellectually fashionable. In the past month, The New York Times has run severalstories about lack of faith in its series on religion. The New Yorker ran an article on the history of non-belief in reaction to twonew books on the subject that were released within a week of each other in February. The veteran writer, Adam Gopnik, concludes this:
What the noes, whatever their numbers, really have now … is a monopoly on legitimate forms of knowledge about the natural world. They have this monopoly for the same reason that computer manufacturers have an edge over crystal-ball makers: The advantages of having an actual explanation of things and processes are self-evident.
This is a perfect summary of the intellectual claim of those who set out to prove that God is dead and religion is false: Atheists have legitimate knowledge, and those who believe do not. This is the epistemological assumption looming in the so-called “culture war” between the caricatures of godless liberals and Bible-thumping conservatives in America: One group wields rational argumentation and intellectual history as an indictment of God, while the other looks to tradition and text as defenses against modernity’s encroachment on religious life.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
At a large distribution center located north of Boston, a robot lifts a shelf holding merchandise and navigates it through the warehouse to the workstation of an employee who then picks the item needed for an order and places it in a shipping box. Incoming orders are processed by a computer that sends picking requests to sixty-nine robots. Then, the robots deliver storage units to roughly a hundred workers, saving the workers the task of walking through the warehouse to find the items. In other distribution centers, this is work that warehouse workers do.
The distribution center, run by Quiet Logistics—a company that fills orders for sellers of premium-branded apparel, is featured in the60 Minutes episode “Are Robots Hurting Job Growth?” In the segment, Steve Kroft poses the following question to Bruce Welty, the CEO of Quiet Logistics: "If you had to replace the robots with people, how many people would you have to hire?" Welty estimates that he would have to hire one and a half people for every robot, and that the robots are saving him a lot of money.
“People skills” are almost always assumed to be a good thing. Search employment ads and you will find them listed as a qualification for a startling array of jobs, including Applebee’s host, weight-loss specialist, CEO, shoe salesperson, and (no joke) animal-care coordinator. The notion that people smarts might help you succeed got a boost a quarter century ago, when the phrase emotional intelligence, or EI, entered the mainstream. Coined in a 1990 study, the term was popularized by Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book . Since then, scores of researchers have shown how being in touch with feelings—both your own and other people’s—gives you an edge: compared with people who have average EI, those with high EI do better at work, have fewer health problems,and report greater life satisfaction.
In her new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson tells readers a story about her friend, Tim. When Tim started a new job as a manager, one of his top priorities was communicating to his team that he valued each member’s input. So at team meetings, as each member spoke up about whatever project they were working on, Tim made sure he put on his “active-listening face” to signal that he cared about what each person was saying.
But after meeting with him a few times, Tim’s team got a very different message from the one he intended to send. “After a few weeks of meetings,” Halvorson explains, “one team member finally summoned up the courage to ask him the question that had been on everyone’s mind.” That question was: “Tim, are you angry with us right now?” When Tim explained that he wasn’t at all angry—that he was just putting on his “active-listening face”—his colleague gently explained that his active-listening face looked a lot like his angry face.
On Monday afternoon the funeral for Freddie Gray took place in Baltimore, Maryland. Gray died last week from spinal injuries suffered while in Baltimore Police custody. After the funeral, against the wishes of the Gray family, some peaceful demonstrations took place, but other protests became violent, devolving into chaotic clashes.