The Conversation

Responses and reverberations

Young children—even toddlers—are spending more and more time with digital technology. For April’s cover story, Hanna Rosin explored the potential benefits and downsides of 21st-century playtime.
My concern isn’t the amount of screen time kids have, but the fact that this screen time takes away from creative play (that is, building with boxes and paper-towel rolls), during which the options are limitless and determined by the kid. Apps, by their nature, will have confined outcomes based on their design.
I would like to see research that compares what happens in kids’ brains when they are engaged in creative/tactile play versus screen play. My son’s first-grade teacher says kids have become much less creative in her 11 years of teaching. Fostering creativity in kids is necessary so they can become scientists and engineers in the future.
jemappel comment
I was expecting a scathing, haughty inventory of the touch-screen-technology wave, and I am thrilled that this was not the case.
For the past 10 years, I have worked as a co-teacher in an integrated preschool for children with autism, and I knew when I saw the first iPad commercial that the world had just changed for my students. Our preschool received a technology grant about 18 months ago, and we bought eight iPads to share. Our kids have limited access, but in their 10 to 20 minutes a day, I seen nonverbal children use their voice to get Talking Tom to respond to them, and I seen other children abandon behaviors like hand flapping so they can “interact” with a device. I’ve also realized that many of the children are thinking at much higher levels than I had previously suspected: I watch them “play” with apps that are almost cognitive, and they are answering questions correctly! They are sorting, counting, even reading, when my other approaches to these types of activities have fallen flat.
We need to help teachers know how to use this amazing tool and how to generalize the knowledge away from the iPad, and we must find a way to get more kids access to the technology. The hardest part about teaching can be finding something engaging, and if we have that format, let’s not exclude it as “bad” because it was not how we learned. Yes, I too throw my own kids outside and say things like “Go play in the creek.” But if kids are thinking while they stare down and touch their iPads, that’s a good thing.
Amy Keren
Mogadore, Ohio

For the April issue, William D. Cohan asked “What’s the Deal With Donald Trump?” and Ken Stern wondered “Why the Rich Don’t Give.”

Interesting article on Donald Trump, especially regarding his relationship with the truth. A reflection of this is his comment concerning his Citation X jet, which he claims is the “fastest private plane ever made,” as it does “Mach 9.3.” Computation of Mach is a complicated matter with a number of variables, but in simple terms, this would mean the plane could travel somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 miles an hour. Perhaps Trump could sell the secret of this achievement to the Department of Defense; it would love to have any plane with such speed.
Or maybe he’s using the same method that he calculates his fortune with.
Ken Gary
San Diego, Calif.
I am a professor of economics at Texas A&M University whose research often focuses on issues of charitable giving. While I am sympathetic to Ken Stern’s concerns about the causes to which wealthier individuals direct their voluntary contributions, his piece contains a number of inaccurate and misleading statements that are unfortunately common in this type of work. The crux of his argument relies on data showing that lower-income individuals give a larger proportion of their income than higher-income individuals. This statement may be true, but it does not follow from the data that Mr. Stern cites. The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s data analysis is an excellent example of the dangers of statistical illiteracy.
First, these data drop tax-filing units with adjusted gross incomes of less than $50,000, a whopping 65 percent of tax returns. Thus, the study is limited to the top third of income earners, so referring to giving by the “poor” is highly misleading. Second, and more important, the IRS has giving data only for people who itemize their deductions. At the lower levels of the income range used by The Chronicle, only half of tax returns are itemized, whereas at higher levels, nearly all are. Almost by definition, itemizers at the lower levels will have higher levels of charitable giving—otherwise, they wouldn’t itemize. It is incorrect to conclude that individuals in these income brackets are more generous when one is using a select sample.
This problem extends to the conclusion that those who live in more economically diverse areas tend to give more. If housing prices are higher in areas with more concentrated wealth, as one would expect, then a larger proportion of individuals will itemize, leading to the same data-selection issue. Additionally, this contradicts recent research by Jim Andreoni, one of the leading researchers on altruism, who finds that giving is lower in more-diverse areas.
Mr. Stern has written a thought-provoking article. However, it seems that his desire to sell his central thesis has blinded him to the errors in the data on which he relies.
Jonathan Meer
College Station, Texas
The expression “out of sight, out of mind” is right-on when considering why the rich don’t give, but here’s another factor: the general lack of observable, measurable, and effective results produced or demonstrated by many nonprofit charitable organizations that provide services to the poor and dispossessed. If programs were more effective, money would stream in.
Richard L. Baron
Seattle, Wash.
Ken Stern replies:
With respect to Jonathan Meer’s letter, it is worth noting that he does not disagree with the central tenets of the article: that the rich give less and differently. The question of why that is the case is still a source of fair debate. Whatever the limitations of The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s methodology, the research that I am aware of suggests that geography and exposure to need do affect giving patterns. Meer cites James Andreoni on this point, but Andreoni also writes that giving begins “with a stimulus that elevates sympathy or empathy in the mind of the potential giver, much like the smell of freshly baked bread can pique appetite”—which supports the concept that interaction with need generates giving.

Richard Baron’s point ties in closely with the core argument of my recent book, With Charity for All, so all I can say is: amen, brother.

A Democratic Age?

In April, Molly Ball dissected a major problem for the GOP: young Obama voters are unlikely to turn into conservatives as they grow older.

Molly Ball makes the case that members of the Millennial generation, like many before them, will settle down with the political party they voted for in their formative years. As a result, the most-recent presidential elections would seem to suggest that the largest and most diverse generation in U.S. history is squarely on the side of the Democrats. However, a Roosevelt Institute Campus Network report called “Government by and for Millennial America” indicates that this generation views politics and government differently than previous generations do, and has no interest in party orthodoxy. Instead, Millennials will look to progressive institutions and people committed to overhauling the broken in favor of what works. That is a mentality that does not favor the status quo upheld by an old guard, whatever party it represents.
Taylor Jo Isenberg
National Director, Roosevelt Institute Campus Network
New York, N.Y.

In the January/February issue, Dan Slater detailed the effect online dating has had on relationships.

Dan Slater quotes several prognosticators warning of a future rise in divorce rates, and one business executive who believes the Internet “may be partly responsible for a rise in the divorce rates.” Unfortunately for Slater’s narrative, and conveniently left out of the article, divorce rates have been falling steadily since the mid-1990s. While it remains possible that online dating is increasing divorce rates, at the very least there are much bigger forces at work.
Greg Srolestar
Los Angeles, Calif.
The lack of female perspective in this piece is irritating and disheartening. I was particularly bothered by the generalization reinforcing the outdated, oversimplified assumption that women withhold sex as a dating strategy. Without any significant mention of how women experience the online-dating world, this piece is woefully unbalanced.
Tara S. Whitty
San Diego, Calif.

Dan Slater replies:

In January I published a book, Love in the Time of Algorithms. It chronicles the 50-year development of the online-dating industry and explores how technology is affecting relationships in different ways, for better or for worse.

Chapter 5 is titled “Better Relationships But More Divorce: What Technology Means for Commitment.” I argue that for certain relationships—namely, suboptimal ones—the enhanced availability of new mates, via online dating, will lead to a decrease in commitment. In other words, for many of the 100-plus online daters I interviewed for my book—male and female, young and old, gay and straight—online dating had made it easier for them to leave unsatisfactory relationships and find new ones. The bar for what they considered a happy relationship had been raised. The result, I hypothesize, is better relationships and, consequently, more relationship breakup. When the chapter was excerpted in The Atlantic under the title “A Million First Dates,” the magazine solicited a passel of online responses. Some skeptics cited census data showing that divorce rates are declining after decades of increase. Fair enough. But it’s also the case that marriage rates are at historic lows, and continue to decline precipitously. Of course, many factors are fueling the latter trend, and I address a few of them in the book. Other responders, including at least one Atlantic staffer, complained that I’d consulted no women. The excerpt constituted a small fraction of Algorithms, a book in which the online daters whose stories I tell are predominantly female.

Follow-Up: Monarch in the Middle
The April issue featured Jeffrey Goldberg’s profile of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, “the most pro-American ruler in the Arab world.” In a series of conversations, Abdullah was remarkably candid.
“It’s probably the most indiscreet interview I’ve ever read a head of state give,” said Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, on NBC’s Morning Joe.
Abdullah shared sharp criticisms and colorful anecdotes about his fellow Middle Eastern leaders, including Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi (“There’s no depth to the guy”) and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad (“He never heard of jet lag”). He also criticized the leaders of political factions in his own country, calling the heads of the National Current Party “old dinosaurs”; and declared his distrust of the state secret police, whose forces are sworn to protect the king. The Muslim Brotherhood, Abdullah said, is run by “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
The king’s remarks sparked protests in Jordan, where “resentment is already running high over widespread corruption, eroding living standards and discontent over the slow pace of political reforms,” according to reporting in The Majalla, an Arab magazine. “Angry Jordanians rushed to the royal court, chanting, ‘We are not dinosaurs,’ while protesters criticized the king on Friday for ‘cursing the tribes.’ Members of the Muslim Brotherhood held their own rally and demanded that the king apologize for calling their group a ‘Masonic cult.’ ”
“The reaction across the Middle East was very interesting,” Goldberg told The Conversation. “Anti-monarchists took heart that the king said he would sooner abdicate than gun down his citizens. Jordanian critics of the king argued that he was insulting his citizens, while Jordanian defenders of the king accused me of all sorts of fascinating crimes, including conspiring against him with Queen Noor, the king’s stepmother, and conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood and the government of Qatar as well.
“From the palace, the reaction was actually nuanced,” Goldberg continued. “The king’s men were upset by the way that many Arabic-language outlets translated and interpreted his comments to me, but they stressed to me that the story accurately reflected what he had said.”

“History Gone Digital” (But actually, it’s 155 years.)

I have written previously about the innovations The Atlantic has engineered in terms of mobile and PC-based design, which are both outstanding. For me, The Atlantic is all about discovery. I can read about toddler behavior in the tech era, robots, foreign policy, or the gun-control debate … I’m always surprised. Like Fast Company, the archives are incredibly valuable. It’s just that at The Atlantic, the archives go back 125 years. It is American history gone digital.

Jeanniey Mullen
“What’s Your Favorite Digital Magazine?”

Q: What was the worst marriage in history?
Readers answered April's Big Question online, via e-mail, and on Twitter.

Peter III and Catherine the Great

Abraham and Sarah

John and Lorena Bobbitt


The first one

Church and state

Liza Minnelli and David Gest

AOL Time Warner

Time and Warner

Mark Antony and Cleopatra

Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall II

My neighbors’