My faith in adult society got a little boost the past weekend when I read that a growing number of people are becoming disillusioned with Facebook and are discontinuing their affiliation, or at least their frequent visits, to the site.
Not that Facebook, or its conceptual offspring Twitter, are in any immediate danger of extinction. The numbers of both networks are still climbing. But as Virginia Heffernan reported in the Sunday Times Magazine, there's a growing number of people who are becoming disenchanted with Facebook--and in some cases the whole idea of the Facebook--for a number of reasons.
For some, it's concerns about privacy. Facebook isn't just a friendly neighborhood park; the company profits from the information it collects on users. There were many who objected, in early 2008, to the fact that the site was holding onto profile information even when people closed down their accounts. Not to mention the "oops" when Facebook decided to let everyone in a user's circle know about other internet purchases a user made. There were also some who turned away after the kerfluffle over Facebook's assertion, last February, that it owned the copyright to all content on the site, and some who object to having their personal activity so closely monitored by some large, unseen entity.
But what intrigued me about the group Heffernan interviewed was the number who were simply tiring of checking in on other people's lives all the time, investing in connections that felt more like stalking or distant newsletters instead of direct one-on-one friendship, and a growing unease about how they're spending, or wasting, their time.
I find these growing sentiments reassuring because of an assessment a friend of mine made last spring about the social-network frenzy of Facebook and Twitter. A friend, it should be noted, whose entire job revolves around the development of new technology in Silicon Valley. But both of those technologies, he said, were really geared toward the needs and interests of teenagers and young people. Twitter, after all, evolved from cell phone texting, which nobody does anywhere near as impressively, or frequently, as the under-20 crowd. And Facebook was started by college students as a kind of snide "pig book" to put various students' photos together and allow people to weigh in on who was "hotter." It evolved into a college networking site, and expanded from there. But, still.
The tasks that Facebook and Twitter enhance ... staying connected with as large a group as possible, staying up-to-the-minute informed about what everyone in the social world you care about is doing, and in the process keeping track of where you fit in the social hierarchy of it all ... have been a primary focus of teenagers since time immemorial. Forty years ago, there were gossip cliques by the school lockers and fights over who got to use the family phone to keep up with the latest social status news. All Facebook and Twitter do is give teenagers additional tools to accomplish one of their prime developmental tasks: figuring out how to define themselves in relation to, and as distinct from, the rest of their peers, and exploring a wide variety of social connections within that group.
So in that context, texting, Facebook and Twitter are all terrific developments that, among other things, certainly free up the family phone. The puzzling thing is why they've been so popular among people who are supposed to be a bit beyond that stage. At some point in our development, we're supposed to let go of that obsessive focus on what everyone else is doing in order to focus on our own work and achievements. We're supposed to mature into valuing fewer but more meaningful friendships over the herd social groups we favored as teenagers. And hopefully, we're supposed to get busy enough with more significant contributions to family, community and the world to either care about, or have time for, the movements and chatter of people we're not that deeply connected to. As free time becomes more limited, choices have to be made. And there's a trade-off: to go deep, you can't go as broad.
There are certainly valuable uses for Facebook, even in the 30-something and beyond set. Most of my friends who have teenagers have joined so they have a better awareness of the technology and world their children are experiencing ... and to help them keep track of what's going on in their children's lives. And for older people who can't get out as much, social networking sites offer a way to stay connected with the world, and to keep loneliness at bay. Not to mention their appeal to marketers, who see a way to reach large groups of people (and especially the all-important young demographic) with a sales message in a fairly easy manner.
So the sites have their uses. But using them to compensate for the loneliness of old age, track your kids, or sell a product, is different than being giddy about them--or being addicted to them--for their own sake. And that's the part that's perplexed me about their growing use and popularity among the over-30 set. When teenagers are texting or twittering inane comments during class, they're being difficult, but age-appropriate. When Senators are twittering inane comments during major policy speeches, there's something slightly askew.
But perhaps the fascination with both sites is just a product of our innately curious and exploratory natures. When my sister and I, at ages 15 and 17, bought lacrosse sticks (boys', because we couldn't locate girls'), I remember the way my dad was drawn almost irresistibly toward the back yard where we were trying them out. He watched from the back window, then the open door, then the grass at the foot of the steps. We could feel how much he was itching to have a go at it, even though he'd never held a lacrosse stick in his life. When we finally offered him a turn, he lit up like a Christmas tree and laughed out loud at the novelty of the play. He had a blast with it. But he didn't have the need to play as long as my sister and I did. He tried it, had fun, and then moved on to the other tasks and activities of his day.
The kids come up with something new, and we can't help but want to try it out. But with different life and developmental tasks demanding our focus and time, we don't, or at least we shouldn't, stay as obsessed with it as they are--whether the "it" is the hula hoop, skateboarding, hanging out at the mall ... or a passionate attachment to Facebook or Twitter.
Is that natural dissipation of interest coming to pass with the social networking sites, as well? Hard to say. But if Heffernan's subjects are any guide, it may be ... until, of course, the next exciting new fad, fashion, techno-gizmo, or toy comes to town.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
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.
People labeled “smart” at a young age don’t deal well with being wrong. Life grows stagnant.
At whatever agesmart people develop the idea that they are smart, they also tend to develop vulnerability around relinquishing that label. So the difference between telling a kid “You did a great job” and “You are smart” isn’t subtle. That is, at least, according to one growing movement in education and parenting that advocates for retirement of “the S word.”
The idea is that when we praise kids for being smart, those kids think: Oh good, I'm smart. And then later, when those kids mess up, which they will, they think: Oh no, I'm not smart after all. People will think I’m not smart after all. And that’s the worst. That’s a risk to avoid, they learn.“Smart” kids stand to become especially averse to making mistakes, which are critical to learning and succeeding.
How a re-creation of its most famous battle helped erase the meaning of the Civil War.
"No person should die without seeing this cyclorama," declared a Boston man in 1885. "It's a duty they owe to their country." Paul Philippoteaux's lifelike depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg was much more than a painting. It re-created the battlefield with such painstaking fidelity, and created an illusion so enveloping, that many visitors felt as if they were actually there.
For all its verisimilitude, though, the painting failed to capture the deeper truths of the Civil War. It showed the two armies in lavish detail, but not the clash of ideals that impelled them onto the battlefield. Its stunning rendition of a battle utterly divorced from context appealed to a nation as eager to remember the valor of those who fought as it was to forget the purpose of their fight. Its version of the conflict proved so alluring, in fact, that it changed the way America remembered the Civil War.
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
The retired general and former CIA director holds forth on the Middle East.
ASPEN, Colo.—Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus pioneered America’s approach to counterinsurgency, led the surge in Iraq, served as director of the CIA for a year, and was sentenced to two years probation for leaking classified information to his mistress. On Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he was interviewed by my colleague, Jeffrey Goldberg, about subjects including efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program; the civil war in Syria; ISIS and the threat it poses to the United States; and the Iraq War.
Here are several noteworthy moments from their conversation, slightly condensed:
The Risks of Attacking Iran
Jeffrey Goldberg: So you believe that, under certain circumstances, President Obama would still use military force against Iran?
David Petraeus: I think he would, actually. I know we’ve had red lines that didn’t turn out to be red lines. ... I think this is a different issue, and I clearly recognize how the administration has sought to show that this is very, very different from other sort of off-the-cuff remarks.
Goldberg: How did the Obama administration stop Israel from attacking Iran? And do you think that if this deal does go south, that Israel would be back in the picture?
Petraeus: I don’t, actually. I think Israel is very cognizant of its limitations. ... The Israelis do not have anything that can crack this deeply buried enrichment site ... and if you cannot do that, you’re not going to set the program back very much. So is it truly worth it, then?
So that’s a huge limitation. It’s also publicly known that we have a 30,000-pound projectile that no one else has, that no one else can even carry. The Massive Ordinance Penetrator was under design for almost six years. ... If necessary, we can take out all these facilities and set them back a few years, depending on your assumptions.
But that’s another roll of the iron dice, as Bismarck used to say, and you never know when those dice are rolled what the outcome is going to be. You don’t know what risks could materialize for those who are in harm’s way.
You don’t know what the response could be by Iran.
There’s always the chance that there will be salvos at Israel, but what if they decide to go at the Gulf states, where we have facilities in every single one.
This is not something to be taken lightly, clearly.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
Be kind, show understanding, do good—but, some scientists say, don’t try to feel others’ pain.
In 2006, then-senator Barack Obama gave a commencement speech offering what seemed like very sensible advice. “There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit,” he told Northwestern’s graduating class. “But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit—the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us—the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.”
In the years since then, the country has followed Obama’s counsel, at least when it comes to talking about empathy. It’s become a buzzword, extolled by Arianna Huffington, taught to doctors and cops, and used as a test for politicians. "We are on the cusp of an epic shift,” according to Jeremy Rifkin’s 2010 book The Empathetic Civilization. “The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy."
A European heat wave, lightning over California, a building made of 8,500 beer bottles, shrimp fishing on horseback in Belgium, the first-ever White House Campout, mine detection rats in Cambodia, and much more.
A European heat wave, lightning over California, a building made of 8,500 beer bottles, cosplay in Paris, shrimp fishing on horseback in Belgium, the first-ever White House Campout, mine detection rats in Cambodia, a train wreck in Pakistan, an airshow over St. Petersburg, Russia, and much more.