Sharing is human. We are social. We communicate. We learn from each other. Our first conversations with people we don't know are anecdote competitions. If in the 15th century everyone had owned a printing press, Europe would have been littered with personal missives and opinions. Cameras were one of the first mass-market story-telling devices, and stories were told. Then: curated, bundled, and shared.
The genius of Facebook has always been its facilitation of sharing. Its pivotal innovation -- the one that inspired its first rash of furious remonstrations -- was the automatic sharing of news feeds between friends. In the Friendster/MySpace world, users could visit their friends' feeds, but they did not receive them passively. Facebook's decision to push these feeds out to users' contacts led to howls about privacy -- and that's what made the service a sensation.
Facebook's role in our world is to lead us where we're headed. We like to share who we are and what we like. We're consumers who pay more for things stamped with particular logos, after all; we shouldn't be taken aback when someone tries to spread that idea. Facebook has been there for almost a decade, guiding us toward a place where displays of what we're doing and where we are become the simple documentations of the life of an average Joe.
The company's biggest struggle has been figuring out how to make money from it. An early effort, Beacon, was a flop. People are happy to share information -- photos, stories, links, videos -- but only information they have carefully selected. Beacon took it upon itself to share information about online purchases and transactions -- and people revolted. It was Facebook's most notable failure, and it stemmed from sharing that didn't derive from the user.
Last year's launch of Open Graph began an exploration of how to work around that. It combined two innovations: the global Like button and the ability of some sites to pull information from Facebook without your agreeing to it. Beacon lite. This met with outcry -- I'm losing control over my information! -- which quickly subsided as it became apparent that the intrusion was minimal. People weren't interested in your Pandora stations, but Facebook cracked the door toward using your information the way it wanted.
Slate's Farhad Manjoo has perhaps the savviest take on the innovations Facebook announced yesterday. In addition to Timeline -- the elegant, deep presentation of a user's Facebook history -- the company revealed that it sought to make sharing information "frictionless," which is to say, automatic. Watch a movie or listen to a song and it gets shared, without the tedium of your clicking anything.
The problem with that, of course, is that it eliminates the curation aspect of our self-presentations. It would be as though I told everyone that I was wearing blue jeans and a somewhat worse-for-wear t-shirt right now in addition to revealing that earlier today I wore a sharp, tailored suit. Both are accurate, but only one is the impression I'd like to leave with people. (The latter.) Talking about the suit is Facebook. Talking about my scrubby jeans is Beacon.
I used to work at Adobe. One summer, the company brought in a number of well-known
artists to work on a project, one of whom was a photographer. Using Photoshop, he cleaned up his photos of the other participants, noting that "a photo is not meant to be a dermatological
record." This is extensible: the image we present to the world is not
meant to include every single bit of information possible. What we share is
selected to be a representation of the ideal we want to project, not a
reflection of who we are. Our curation itself is representative; what we don't
say says something, too. Facebook moving curation from us to its algorithms
means we could lose some of our personality in what we present. It's akin to
putting every photo in a photo album, and letting the album worry about what
But this is incidental. Facebook anticipates -- correctly -- that we want easy processes to share more and more about ourselves. Or, at least, that we will soon. We've always wanted simple ways to scrapbook, and Facebook is poised to be one of the simplest.
Where they may have missed the mark is in taking away our ability to decide what we show.
As it’s moved beyond the George R.R. Martin novels, the series has evolved both for better and for worse.
Well, that was more like it. Sunday night’s Game of Thrones finale, “The Winds of Winter,” was the best episode of the season—the best, perhaps, in a few seasons. It was packed full of major developments—bye, bye, Baelor; hello, Dany’s fleet—but still found the time for some quieter moments, such as Tyrion’s touching acceptance of the role of Hand of the Queen. I was out of town last week and thus unable to take my usual seat at our Game of Thrones roundtable. But I did have some closing thoughts about what the episode—and season six in general—told us about how the show has evolved.
Last season, viewers got a limited taste—principally in the storylines in the North—of how the show would be different once showrunners Benioff and Weiss ran out of material from George R.R. Martin’s novels and had to set out on their own. But it was this season in which that exception truly became the norm. Though Martin long ago supplied Benioff and Weiss with a general narrative blueprint of the major arcs of the story, they can no longer rely on the books scene by scene. Game of Thrones is truly their show now. And thanks to changes in pacing, character development, and plot streamlining, it’s also a markedly different show from the one we watched in seasons one through four—for the worse and, to some degree, for the better.
How much do you really need to say to put a sentence together?
Just as fish presumably don’t know they’re wet, many English speakers don’t know that the way their language works is just one of endless ways it could have come out. It’s easy to think that what one’s native language puts words to, and how, reflects the fundamentals of reality.
But languages are strikingly different in the level of detail they require a speaker to provide in order to put a sentence together. In English, for example, here’s a simple sentence that comes to my mind for rather specific reasons related to having small children: “The father said ‘Come here!’” This statement specifies that there is a father, that he conducted the action of speaking in the past, and that he indicated the child should approach him at the location “here.” What else would a language need to do?
It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.
It’s 2020, four years from now. The campaign is under way to succeed the president, who is retiring after a single wretched term. Voters are angrier than ever—at politicians, at compromisers, at the establishment. Congress and the White House seem incapable of working together on anything, even when their interests align. With lawmaking at a standstill, the president’s use of executive orders and regulatory discretion has reached a level that Congress views as dictatorial—not that Congress can do anything about it, except file lawsuits that the divided Supreme Court, its three vacancies unfilled, has been unable to resolve.
On Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan resigned after proving unable to pass a budget, or much else. The House burned through two more speakers and one “acting” speaker, a job invented following four speakerless months. The Senate, meanwhile, is tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring talk-show hosts, who use the chamber as a social-media platform to build their brands by obstructing—well, everything. The Defense Department is among hundreds of agencies that have not been reauthorized, the government has shut down three times, and, yes, it finally happened: The United States briefly defaulted on the national debt, precipitating a market collapse and an economic downturn. No one wanted that outcome, but no one was able to prevent it.
People in Great Britain felt their leaders weren’t treating them fairly. Politicians in the U.S. should take note.
Britain’s Brexit vote has shocked the political elites of both the U.S. and Europe. The vote wasn’t just about the EU; in fact, polls before the referendum consistently showed that Europe wasn’t top on voters’ lists of concerns. But on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, large numbers of people feel that the fundamental contracts of capitalism and democracy have been broken. In a capitalist economy, citizens tolerate rich people if they share in the wealth, and in a democracy, they give their consent to be governed if those governing do so in their interest. The Brexit vote was an opportunity for people to tell elites that both promises have been broken. The most effective line of the Leave campaign was “take back control.” It is also Donald Trump’s line.
Readers share their own experiences in an ongoing series.
Prompted by Emma Green’s note on the Supreme Court case Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, for which a group of lawyers filed a document openly describing their abortions, readers share their own stories in an ongoing collection edited by Chris Bodenner. We are posting a wide range of experiences—from pro-choice and pro-life readers, women and men alike—so if you have an experience not represented so far, please send us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.
American society increasingly mistakes intelligence for human worth.
As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory. IQ wasn’t a big factor in whom you married, where you lived, or what others thought of you. The qualifications for a good job, whether on an assembly line or behind a desk, mostly revolved around integrity, work ethic, and a knack for getting along—bosses didn’t routinely expect college degrees, much less ask to see SAT scores. As one account of the era put it, hiring decisions were “based on a candidate having a critical skill or two and on soft factors such as eagerness, appearance, family background, and physical characteristics.”
The 2010s, in contrast, are a terrible time to not be brainy. Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so. Even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance, or disability are all too happy to drop the s‑bomb: Indeed, degrading others for being “stupid” has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.
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.
Their degrees may help them secure entry-level jobs, but to advance in their careers, they’ll need much more than technical skills.
American undergraduates are flocking to business programs, and finding plenty of entry-level opportunities. But when businesses go hunting for CEOs or managers, “they will say, a couple of decades out, that I’m looking for a liberal arts grad,” said Judy Samuelson, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program.
That presents a growing challenge to colleges and universities. Students are clamoring for degrees that will help them secure jobs in a shifting economy, but to succeed in the long term, they’ll require an education that allows them to grow, adapt, and contribute as citizens—and to build successful careers. And it’s why many schools are shaking up their curricula to ensure that undergraduate business majors receive something they may not even know they need—a rigorous liberal-arts education.
The star Daily Show correspondent is moving on to make her own scripted comedy, and her gain is the show’s huge loss.
When Jon Stewart announced he was leaving The Daily Show last year, many fans lobbied for Jessica Williams to replace him, pushing one of the show’s standout performers into a limelight she deemed herself not quite ready for. “Thank you, but I am extremely under-qualified for the job!” Williams tweeted. Comedy Central eventually picked Trevor Noah for the gig, and in the following months, Williams’s star has only risen higher. It’s no huge surprise, then, that on Wednesday she told Entertainment Weekly she was moving on from The Daily Show to develop her own scripted series for Comedy Central. It’s great news for Williams, but a huge loss for the show she’s leaving behind.
The discussion over Williams becoming The Daily Show host in 2015 turned into a minor political maelstrom. Williams publicly pushed back against the idea that she had “impostor syndrome,” as suggested by one writer, for calling herself “under-qualified” and pointing to her young age (25 at the time) as a reason for her disinterest in the position. Indeed, there are a thousand reasons to not want the daily grind of a TV hosting gig, and the heightened scrutiny and criticism Noah has received in his year on the job is among them. But as Williams’s popularity and talents have grown, and as The Daily Show has struggled to retain its critical cachet after Stewart’s departure, it’s been hard not to mourn a different outcome in which Williams took the host job and steered the series in a fresher, more relevant direction.
Jim Henson’s 1986 film understands at its core that youth is full of mystery, tricks, and danger.
When Labyrinth was first released, critics were overwhelmingly negative, bordering on hostile. Variety called the 1986 film starring David Bowie “silly and flat,” while Gene Siskel said it was “quite awful.” Audiences at the time largely agreed: The movie grossed $12.7 million domestically—hardly half its budget—and Tri-Star Pictures pulled it from theaters after less than a month. Because Jim Henson was the director, many people, including reporters, had gone into the film expecting Muppets. Instead, they got something much darker.
The last feature film that Henson would direct, Labyrinth is about a teenage girl named Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) whose baby brother is kidnapped by Bowie’s Goblin King, Jareth. Sarah has to rescue her brother from the goblins’ castle at the center of a curiously populated maze before midnight, or he’ll be turned into a goblin. (Or something—the plot meanders and at times disappears entirely, but the whole quest may simply be a ploy for the Goblin King to win Sarah’s love.) Why then has Labyrinth—101 minutes of Bowie rock opera and Hensonian spectacle—become so beloved that it’s now a mainstream cult favorite, and what keeps people watching 30 years on?