What if digital tools make it easier to destabilize governments, but not to build new ones?
The past several days have been hard ones for those who cheered the fall of Hosni Mubarak less than a year ago. More than 30 people have been killed protesting the continued rule of the military council, and the Egyptian cabinet has tendered its resignation. Tahrir Square, once a symbol of the possibilities for a new Egypt, has now become a stage for the revolution's unraveling. These developments (and others since last February) have provoked a simple thought: What if the combination of social media and mobile devices does make revolutions more likely, but do not in turn make republican governing any more possible? What then?
Of course, it's not been settled that these new communications technologies do make revolutions any easier. It never will be. The ingredients for a successful revolution -- frustration, leadership, organization, and luck -- are difficult if not impossible to quantify. Scholars will someday count the numbers of tweets retweeted or videos "liked" on Facebook, and we will still be no closer to knowing what the effects were, sum told. But if you think that there's even the possibility that the existence of social media makes autocracies less stable, you have to grapple with the possibility that the indirect result of these technologies is the kind of chaos we're seeing now in Egypt, a kind of chaos that emerges between revolution and government.
The challenges of organizing a mass social movement are in part those of communication: How do you coordinate large groups of people? How do you inspire anger against a regime? Social media can help with these problems, by spreading logistical information or videos of state brutality. But the problems of designing a new government and governing are different. What institutions should we have? Which rights should we protect in our constitution? How do we ensure fair and safe voting? How do we exorcise corruption? It's not clear that social media can help with those sorts of questions.
There are, of course, plenty of efforts to use social media to help improve governing. Here in America, the Obama administration has, for example, created its own e-petitions site, where people can create their own petitions and the White House promises to review any that receive more than 25,000 signatures in 30 days. But, if it's any indication of this project's success so far, one of the most popular petitions right now is a request to "actually take these petitions seriously instead of just using them as an excuse to pretend you are listening." New York City is also using some online tools as part of an ambitious participatory budgeting effort.
Another prominent example but more successful of an attempt to adapt social media for better governing is the open-source project Ushahidi, begun in Kenya, that enables real-time mapping and coordination for post-disaster relief. It has been used in places such as Haiti, Japan, and the Congo. But while it has proved life-saving in those situations, that purpose is fundamentally different than the questions Egypt now faces. Egypt is not trying to run a government program; it's trying to figure out what kind of government to have.
Perhaps the best example of a country trying to use social media for something on that scale is Iceland's efforts to crowdsource a new constitution, which would then have to be approved by an elected body. By "crowdsource" Iceland meant not a wiki where everyone could contribute but a process by which a constitutional committee solicited feedback online and posted updates on YouTube. A draft of the proposal was released in July but is still awaiting approval.
These projects are all experiments, ones we can hopewill open up new ways for governing to be more representative, fair, and honest. But as of yet they are in their earliest stages. And even with well-designed tools, e-governing faces great challenges in places where computer literacy is not widespread.
The point is this: Revolution is a completely different thing than state building. Revolutions may be fed by social media's power to fuel emotional response and organizing, but state-building does not require a fervor. It requires smart decision-making, leadership, and perhaps even idealism and vision, things no tool in the world can provide.
In the 1970s, a new wave of post-Watergate liberals stopped fighting monopoly power. The result is an increasingly dangerous political system.
It was January 1975, and the Watergate Babies had arrived in Washington looking for blood. The Watergate Babies—as the recently elected Democratic congressmen were known—were young, idealistic liberals who had been swept into office on a promise to clean up government, end the war in Vietnam, and rid the nation’s capital of the kind of corruption and dirty politics the Nixon White House had wrought. Richard Nixon himself had resigned just a few months earlier in August. But the Watergate Babies didn’t just campaign against Nixon; they took on the Democratic establishment, too. Newly elected Representative George Miller of California, then just 29 years old, announced, “We came here to take the Bastille.”
Tom Hanks’s Doug has a lot in common with “Black Jeopardy” contestants—except, of course, for politics.
SNL’s ongoing “Black Jeopardy” series has been, in part, about divisions. In each edition, black American contestants answer Kenan Thompson’s clues with in-jokes, slang, and their shared opinions while an outsider—say, Elizabeth Banks as the living incarnation of Becky, Louis C.K. as a BYU African American Studies professor, or Drake as a black Canadian—just show their cluelessness.
When Tom Hanks showed up in a “Make America Great Again” hat and bald-eagle shirt to play the contestant “Doug” this weekend, it seemed like the set-up for the ugliest culture clash yet. The 2016 election has been a reminder of the country’s profound racial fault lines, and SNL hasn’t exactly been forgiving toward the Republican nominee on that front: Its version of Trump hasn’t been able to tell black people apart, and it aired a mock ad painting his supporters as white supremacists—which, inarguably, some of them really are.
Late to this for family reasons, but catching up on an actually astonishing development:
Through the campaign, Donald Trump at times seemed more intent on promoting his business interests than in advancing a political campaign. He took time off this summer to fly to Scotland and tout the opening of a new Trump golf resort. He turned what was billed as a major campaign announcement into a promo for his new DC hotel. A surprisingly large share of the money he’s raised for his campaign’s expenditures has gone to his own businesses (notably Mar-a-Lago).
That is why today’s story, in Travel and Leisure, is so piquant and O. Henry-like. What Trump might have imagined would further burnish his personal brand may in fact be poisoning it. T&L reports that Trump’s new hotels will no longer carry his name!!! Instead they’ll be called “Scion.” Groan, given the actual scions, but fascinating in its own way. From T&L:
When their manhood is threatened, men react by doing less housework. The only exception? Meal preparation.
It’s never been a better time to be a man, but for some, it’s also a scary time. Men lost jobs in the recession, and women outnumber them on college campuses. (Some are predicting, in fact, that we’re witnessing the end of men.)
As I’ve written, one way some men are responding to their slipping place in the social hierarchy is by supporting Donald Trump, whose rhetoric hearkens to a less progressive, more traditional time.
But another way men react to having their masculinity threatened is stealthier. They do fewer chores, according to an analysis by Dan Cassino, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and his wife Yasemin Besen-Cassino, from Montclair State University, which relied on the American Time Use Study. According to their findings, men especially avoid housework just when you’d think they would pick up the slack: When they make less than their wives do.
The Republican nominee’s presidential campaign has been nightmarish for his hotel business. Financial markets foresee a similar effect on the world economy.
Donald Trump once wondered aloud if he might become the first person to make money running for president. He made rather brazen attempts to fulfill the prediction. But his candidacy has been a downright disaster for the hotels and resorts that bear his gilded surname. Bookings there are down 59 percent since 2015, according to the travel company Hipmunk. Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danzinger announced that the newest hotels will junk the Trump name entirely. The company has settled on “Scion” to rebrand its new line of luxury hotels aimed at Millennials, who are overwhelmingly opposed to his campaign.
Trump isn’t just bad for his business. He’s not even just a danger to the U.S. economy. Investors around the world think that a President Trump would be disastrous for global markets. And now, there is hard data to prove it, thanks to two clever economists and one debate meltdown.
What use is there today for one of the oldest virtues?
As many Americans go about their days, I imagine they have two little angels perched on their shoulders, whispering conflicting messages about happiness and material wealth. One angel is embodied by James Altucher, a minimalist self-help guru recently profiled by The New York Times. Altucher claims to have only 15 possessions, after having unburdened himself a few months ago of 40 garbage bags’ worth of stuff and never looking back. As I read about Altucher, I rolled the numbers 15 and 40 over in my mind, thinking about the belongings in my bedroom and the garbage bags under my kitchen sink.
The other angel is Tyler Brûlé, the editor in chief of the fantastically high-end lifestyle magazine Monocle and a columnist for the Financial Times. He is the sort of writer who tosses off such lines as “I zipped along the autostrada through the Val d’Aosta with the ever-trusty Mario (my Italian driver for the past 20 years) at the wheel” with little regard for how privileged and pretentious he sounds (especially in his superfluous parentheticals). Still, there is something, I’m a little ashamed to say, that I envy about Brûlé’s effortless cosmopolitanism—which, it’s hard to miss, is only made possible by unusual wealth.
These are some reading recommendations that will hopefully provide a deeper look at some of these issues. Books may seem like small comfort. But in a time like this, when it’s hard to understand how American culture became so hate-filled, reading is probably the best possible option—to get off the internet, pick up a book, and think about how the country has gotten here.
Biology textbooks tell us that lichens are alliances between two organisms—a fungus and an alga. They are wrong.
In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.
At 19, he got a job at a local forestry service. Within a few years, he had earned enough to leave home. His meager savings and non-existent grades meant that no American university would take him, so Spribille looked to Europe.
Tristan Harris believes Silicon Valley is addicting us to our phones. He’s determined to make it stop.
On a recent evening in San Francisco, Tristan Harris, a former product philosopher at Google, took a name tag from a man in pajamas called “Honey Bear” and wrote down his pseudonym for the night: “Presence.”
Harris had just arrived at Unplug SF, a “digital detox experiment” held in honor of the National Day of Unplugging, and the organizers had banned real names. Also outlawed: clocks, “w-talk” (work talk), and “WMDs” (the planners’ loaded shorthand for wireless mobile devices). Harris, a slight 32-year-old with copper hair and a tidy beard, surrendered his iPhone, a device he considers so addictive that he’s called it “a slot machine in my pocket.” He keeps the background set to an image of Scrabble tiles spelling out the words face down, a reminder of the device’s optimal position.
A promising athlete, 13-year-old Zackery Lystadt’s head hit the ground as he rolled through a routine tackle in 2006. He didn’t lose consciousness. But he did lie on the ground for a moment after the play, clutching the sides of his helmet. His coach took him out for two plays.
Then Lystadt played the rest of the game. At the closing whistle he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital, where he required emergency neurosurgery to relieve pressure inside his skull.
Today Lystadt is learning to walk again. The state of Washington created a new law in his name, sometimes known as the “shake it off” law, which requires players who show signs of concussion to be examined and cleared by a medical practitioner prior to re-entering a game.