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.
Take a walk along West Florissant Avenue, in Ferguson, Missouri. Head south of the burned-out Quik Trip and the famous McDonalds, south of the intersection with Chambers, south almost to the city limit, to the corner of Ferguson Avenue and West Florissant. There, last August, Emerson Electric announced third-quarter sales of $6.3 billion. Just over half a mile to the northeast, four days later, Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. The 12 shots fired by Officer Wilson were probably audible in the company lunchroom.
Outwardly, at least, the City of Ferguson would appear to occupy an enviable position. It is home to a Fortune 500 firm. It has successfully revitalized a commercial corridor through its downtown. It hosts an office park filled with corporate tenants. Its coffers should be overflowing with tax dollars.
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.
After a five-month delay, Loretta Lynch made history last week. On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Lynch as the next U.S. attorney general, the first African American woman ever to hold this Cabinet position. Her long-stalled nomination sometimes seemed in doubt, held hostage to partisan jockeying between Democrats and Republicans. But one political bloc never gave up, relentlessly rallying its support behind Lynch: the black sorority.
During her initial hearing, the seats behind Lynch were filled with more than two dozen of her Delta Sigma Theta Sorority sisters arrayed in crimson-and-cream blazers and blouses, ensuring their visibility on the national stage. These Delta women—U.S. Representatives Marcia Fudge and Joyce Beatty among them—were there to lend moral support and show the committee that they meant business. The Deltas were not alone. The Lynch nomination also drew support from congressional representatives from other black sororities: Alpha Kappa Alpha members Terri Sewell and Sheila Jackson Lee took to the House floor to advocate for a vote while Sigma Gamma Rho members Corinne Brown and Robin Kelly and Zeta Phi Beta member Donna Edwards used social media and press conferences to campaign on Lynch’s behalf.
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.
Hours after a major earthquake wreaked havoc across his country, Nepali Information Minister Minendra Rijal appeared at a news conference on Saturday to announce that schools would be closed for the next five days. "We never imagined we'd face such devastation," he said.
But for geologists, Saturday's disaster—which has claimed over 2,400 lives—was sadly predictable.
"Physically and geologically what happened is exactly what we thought would happen," James Jackson, head of the earth-sciences department at the University of Cambridge, told the Associated Press.
Blessed with stunning natural scenery, Nepal is a popular tourist destination that attracts hundreds of thousands of travelers each year. But the source of the country's beauty is what makes it particularly vulnerable to earthquakes. Much of Nepal's population lives in a valley beneath the Himalayas, a mountain range formed by collisions between the Indian and Central Asian tectonic plates. These collisions—which occur when the Indian plate slides underneath its much larger neighbor—are what cause earthquakes. According to The Washington Post, a chunk of the earth measuring 75 by 37 miles shifted 10 feet in 30 seconds on Saturday, destroying much of what lay atop the surface.
I’m not a dog person. I prefer cats. Cats make you work to have a relationship with them, and I like that. But I have adopted several dogs, caving in to pressure from my kids. The first was Teddy, a rottweiler-chow mix whose bushy hair was cut into a lion mane. Kids loved him, and he grew on me, too. Teddy was probably ten years when we adopted him. Five years later he had multiple organs failing and it was time to put him to sleep.
When I arrived at the vet, he said I could drop him off. I was aghast. No. I needed to stay with Teddy.As the vet prepped the syringe to put him to sleep, I started sobbing. The vet gave me a couple minutes to collect myself and say goodbye. I held Teddy's paw until he died. Honestly, I didn't think I was that attached.
A lot of Internet ink has been spilled over how lazy and entitled Millennials are, but when it comes to paying for a college education, work ethic isn't the limiting factor. The economic cards are stacked such that today’s average college student, without support from financial aid and family resources, would need to complete 48 hours of minimum-wage work a week to pay for his courses—a feat that would require superhuman endurance, or maybe a time machine.
To take a close look at the tuition history of almost any institution of higher education in America is to confront an unfair reality: Each year’s crop of college seniors paid a little bit more than the class that graduated before. The tuition crunch never fails to provide new fodder for ongoing analysis of the myths and realities of The American Dream. Last week, a graduate student named Randy Olson listened to his grandfather extol the virtues of putting oneself through college without family support. But paying for college without family support is a totally different proposition these days, Olson thought. It may have been feasible 30 years ago, or even 15 years ago, but it's much harder now.
Whenever a college student asks me, a veteran high-school English educator, about the prospects of becoming a public-school teacher, I never think it’s enough to say that the role is shifting from "content expert" to "curriculum facilitator." Instead, I describe what I think the public-school classroom will look like in 20 years, with a large, fantastic computer screen at the front, streaming one of the nation’s most engaging, informative lessons available on a particular topic. The "virtual class" will be introduced, guided, and curated by one of the country’s best teachers (a.k.a. a "super-teacher"), and it will include professionally produced footage of current events, relevant excerpts from powerful TedTalks, interactive games students can play against other students nationwide, and a formal assessment that the computer will immediately score and record.
In a few weeks, millions of college students will enter the real world with dreams of finding work that's meaningful and challenging—and preferably lucrative enough to live roommate-free in a major city. As they embark on their job searches, recent graduates are frequently given the vague advice to "go out and network."
But what exactly should this networking entail? What does one say to a perfect stranger whom one has cajoled into "grabbing coffee," while also telepathically conveying one's desire for a job?
Science has one piece of advice, which is this: Ask them for advice.
Far from inconveniencing or annoying the advice-giver, research shows that asking for advice appears to boost perceptions of intelligence.
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.