Below are Atlantic notes, from James Fallows and others, on the expected and unexpected effects of the computer revolution on our habits of thought, work, and life. The thread’s title is in honor of the seminal article largely prefiguring the modern Internet, “As We May Think” by Vannevar Bush, which the Atlantic published in 1945.
Yesterday I mentioned the astonishing (to me) news that, by cramming a wad of Post-it notes underneath the cover of my ailing Android Nexus 5 phone, I could save myself the significant cost and hassle of buying a new one.
Three followups. First from Jason Virga, creator of the Post-in note video that saved me so much time and dough:
When my Nexus 5 microphone first started malfunctioning, my first thought was "oh well, time to get a new phone”!
Thankfully my curiosity drew me towards tinkering around a little bit before making that new purchase. Within an hour, I figured out the problem and posted the video.
The phone is actually great, and nothing else was wrong with it. So I thought a few minutes checking under the hood couldn't hurt. Thankfully, it turned out this way, and has saved many people as you said "hundreds of dollars".
And for me helping people brings me utter joy.
And to me too!
Second, from a reader who operates a charter-boat company. First he talks about a similar self-help story; then, reflections on What This All Means:
Last Spring, making flank speed to get a boat ready for the upcoming season my random orbit sanders seized. One, then the other 30 minutes later. From a remote port, the nearest replacements (on a sunday) were a 3 hour round trip away.
But the Internet to the rescue. Don't remember what I googled, but in short order I was watching a bearing repacking for my sanders on Youtube. (Fine particles from sanding enter the sealed bearings, mix with the bearing grease and turn it to non-lubricating goo) I took a chance and sprayed PB Blaster (WD-40 on steroids) into the bearings,and Voila! I was back in business and the boat launched on time.
I think the internet has been disastrous for professional communications, both the profession and the communication. I really do think books, magazines, tv, movies are worse for the internet.
But it is a true golden era for amateur communication, most especially peer to peer communications like your and my day-savers.
We’re fighting off the professional-world effect here at the Atlantic, but overall the reader has a point. His emphasis on the professional/amateur difference is a useful clarification.
Another bit of testimony:
The internet has also saved "early adopters" like me (more than once) from our impulses to upgrade things at the earliest opportunity.
My latest impulse (and fiasco) was to upgrade my Macs (both desktop and laptop) to Yosemite right when it came out (instead of rationally waiting until bugs had been fixed and, more importantly, vendors caught up developing drivers for it). [JF note: burned long ago, I never load an operating-system update until the first “maintenance release.”]
Later that day, when I went to print something out from my laptop, nothing happened (expect a notification on the icon bar telling me an error had occurred). So I looked at the error message and, of course, it was essentially gibberish to me: Stopped - ntdcmsmac open fail:dlopen(/usr/lib/dlthm1zcl.dylib…
Of course, I immediately knew it had something to do with the upgrade, and I got the sinking feeling I would need to wait for Dell (the maker of my printer) to get around to upgrading the drivers (I went to their web site, and they hadn't yet).
Instead, I decided to poke around the internet, googling the above error and the word Yosemite, to see what I could find out. Sure enough, someone had posted a "workaround" to deal with the issue.
(Essentially, Apple beefed up the security features of the OS; in doing so, they prevented programs, etc, from copying files into certain directories. One of those directories was the one the printer driver, dlthm1zcl.dylib, was located in. On top of that, I guess it also erased the driver. And, since the drivers could no longer access the directory, you couldn't simply reinstall the drivers.
The solution was to reboot the machine into recovery mode, disable the security feature, reboot into regular mode, install the current version of the printer driver, which could now access the directory, reboot back into recovery mode, re-enable the security feature, and then reboot back into regular mode).
Worked like a charm.
And, as you said, thanks to all those willing to share their expertise with those of us who often need it!
Disaster (or challenge) for professionals, golden age for amateurs: such are our times.
As a business matter, the Atlantic has placed tremendous emphasis through the past two decades on integrating all the different ways we try to get our message out. This means via the classic in-print magazine, the ever-expanding and -refining range of our web sites, live events, videos and podcasts, and so on. I say “through the past two decades” because we were one of the very first publications to have a serious online site, starting with Atlantic Unbound back in 1994.
As an intellectual and cultural matter, the whole undertaking is more connected than you might think, with most people working in the same physical space in Washington and talking about the interactions among the various things we do. Here is a reader note about the way it comes across on the other end. I offer it as a little document on the state of modern cultural / intellectual/ technological life.
A reader in Texas writes:
My hardcopy version of The Atlantic arrived today. It made me think about how my interaction with the world is influenced by the magazine and all of your various websites.
I use Feedly to collect all of the various Atlantic feeds and (yes!) blogs. I check these daily, indeed several times a day.
When the magazine is about to be released, I notice that all at once there are many long form article on my feed. I secretly rejoice, as I know that the hardcopy is on its way. I don’t read them on my computer or my phone, but do mark some that I know I will want to send to friends later.
Then, a day or so after that, I am able to access the issue on my Kindle. Yes, I pay for the Kindle subscription even though I can get all that content for free online, and I will be getting it a day or so later in the mail.
I use the Kindle version (Years ago, when you had reviewed the Kindle favorably, I sent you a note asking about the “reading experience.” You replied that just because you have a Kindle that doesn’t mean you need to give up books) to read most of the short articles. I will be waiting for a meeting, or just killing a little bit of time and say, “I can read a short article” and I will look for stories with a short word count. (I love the word count for this reason). I don’t like it for the articles with images (especially infographics) or the long form.
Then I wait and wait until I get the magazine. This is where I read the long form articles, review the pieces I have already read, and leave it around the house so when people come by they will think I am smarter than I really am.
I especially love the last sentence.
Two placeholder notes for later discussion, picking up on points I’ve mentioned before:
First, even though I find it much more convenient to read almost anything in a Kindle / nook / iPad version, I have begun consciously willing myself to spend more of my reading time (when possible) on the physical, paper versions of books, magazines, and newspapers.
The advantages of reading-on-paper vary among these media: the subconscious but surprisingly important flash-memory visual impression of where things are on a page with a book (and where the page is within the book), which does affect my recall of them; the attractive page layout of a nice magazine; the ability to scan things quickly and see their relative importance on a physical newspaper page. But beyond those differences is the common factor: my reluctant admission that reading from a physical page undeniably makes me retain and remember them better. I am sorry that this is so, because it’s less convenient. (And I still spend a ton of time reading electronic versions.) And maybe the difference is mainly the distraction factor: you can’t click a link on a page, which sounds like a minus but is a plus. One way or another, for me the difference in retention is real.
Second, let’s get back to that stellar last sentence. I’m wondering about the unintended long-term effects of electronic media reducing the amount of printed material that is just part of the visual landscape in homes and offices.
As early as I can remember, and long before I could actually read, I was conscious of my childhood homes being full of printed material, on practically every surface. Charts, maps, book covers, book cases, posters, stacks of kids’ books, stacks of adults’ books, magazine collections, things with words that were clues to interests my parents had had in the past or were reading / doing / planning on now. Or things they wanted their children to be aware of and comfortable with. The shift to e-reading leaves many fewer of these cues just lying around in constant passive view. There’s also a social effect. My wife Deb could always tell what book or magazine article I was reading, just by seeing it in my hands. Now she has no idea what is on the iPad, and I don’t know what she’s in the middle of reading.
We’ll see where this all leads. For now, thanks to the reader for describing his practices.
Or: how 50 cents’ worth of Post-it notes, and a brief bout of searching, saved me hundreds of dollars just now.
I am a fan of my Nexus 5 Android phone, made by LG and branded by Google. Its neon-orangey-red color makes it harder to lose than some dignified black phone. Also it conforms to my platform philosophy: Apple for laptop and tablet, Android for phone.
This Nexus 5 has always worked great, until yesterday when it just stopped working as a phone. If people called, I could hear them, but they couldn’t hear anything back from my end. Trying to use the voice-command function made it clear: the Nexus’s built-in microphone had completely conked out.
After 30 seconds of searching (in Evernote) to see how long ago I bought the phone, I find that it’s beyond its one-year warranty. In the next minute of searching online, I see that LG’s “repair” policy involves weeks of turnaround time and high enough costs that you might as well just get a new phone. Which in the world of unrepairable modern tech may of course be the intended point.
But then, thank you Internet! The next 60 seconds of searching, and less than five total minutes of work, allowed me to get the phone back to working order. The answer is all here:
Executive summary: you open the phone, you cram in a wad of little Post-it notes, then you close the phone back up. The pressure from the notes tightens up a connection that has come loose. The phone now has a small midriff bulge but works fine again.
Apparently this is a prevalent enough design/structural problem for the Nexus 5 that the this video is part of a large selection dealing with the loose-microphone-connector issue. But it’s the one I’m highlighting, because it required no tools, had total material costs of about 50 cents, and was so quick from start to end.
No larger point, beyond offering a small positive note about the often-maddening online world. Specific thanks to “JBug1979,” creator of this phone-saving YouTube video.
Despite the easing of taboos and the rise of hookup apps, Americans are in the midst of a sex recession.
These should be boom times for sex.
The share of Americans who say sex between unmarried adults is “not wrong at all” is at an all-time high. New cases of HIV are at an all-time low. Most women can—at last—get birth control for free, and the morning-after pill without a prescription.
If hookups are your thing, Grindr and Tinder offer the prospect of casual sex within the hour. The phrase If something exists, there is porn of it used to be a clever internet meme; now it’s a truism. BDSM plays at the local multiplex—but why bother going? Sex is portrayed, often graphically and sometimes gorgeously, on prime-time cable. Sexting is, statistically speaking, normal.
The backlash against the incoming congresswoman’s “very nice” outfit is both tedious and predictable.
Earlier this week, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted a tweet: At congressional events, she shared (the representative-elect of New York’s 14th Congressional District is currently in Washington for a series of orientations on the workings of the House), she keeps being mistaken for an intern. Or sometimes for the spouse of the person who must be the true new member of Congress. Ocasio-Cortez, a young woman who is also a woman of color who is also a democratic socialist—a politician who won her election, earlier this month, with 78 percent of her district’s vote—keeps getting told that she doesn’t quite belong in Congress. Her tweet sharing that experience was punctuated by a face-palm emoji. It went viral.
Yet nearly half of all married couples are likely to divorce, and many couples report feeling unhappy in their relationships. Instructors of Northwestern University’s Marriage 101 class want to change that. The goal of their course is to help students have more fulfilling love relationships during their lives. In Marriage 101 popular books such as Mating in Captivity and For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage are interspersed with meaty academic studies. Students attend one lecture a week and then meet in smaller breakout groups to discuss the weekly topics, which range from infidelity to addiction, childrearing to sexuality in long-term relationships.
Despite vast increases in the time and money spent on research, progress is barely keeping pace with the past. What went wrong?
The writer Stewart Brand once wrote that “science is the only news.” While news headlines are dominated by politics, the economy, and gossip, it’s science and technology that underpin much of the advance of human welfare and the long-term progress of our civilization. This is reflected in an extraordinary growth in public investment in science. Today, there are more scientists, more funding for science, and more scientific papers published than ever before:
On the surface, this is encouraging. But for all this increase in effort, are we getting a proportional increase in our scientific understanding? Or are we investing vastly more merely to sustain (or even see a decline in) the rate of scientific progress?
The billionaire is drilling for futuristic transit under Los Angeles. He didn’t have to ask the neighbors first.
Vicky Warren feels like she’s been attacked from all sides lately. Across the street from her rental apartment in the working-class Los Angeles County city of Hawthorne, noisy planes take off and land at all hours, diverted to the local municipal airport from wealthier Santa Monica, where neighbor complaints have restricted air traffic. On the other side of her apartment, cars on the 105 Freeway sound the frustration of L.A. traffic. She’s even getting assailed within her walls: Termites have invaded so completely that she can’t keep any food uncovered. Flea bites cover her legs; rats are aggressively attacking the boxes she has stored in her garage.
So Warren was disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that invaders are coming from underground, too. She lives on 120th Street, where 40 feet underground Elon Musk’s Boring Company is building a 14-foot-wide, mile-long tunnel to pilot a futuristic transit system untested anywhere in the world. When it’s finished in December, the tunnel will start at the nearby headquarters of SpaceX, Musk’s aerospace company, and end a few blocks past Warren’s apartment. “We’re just sandwiched in between so much already,” Warren told me, shaking her head.
While the revelation of an apparent indictment against Julian Assange sets an ominous precedent for news organizations, it also serves as a reminder of his group’s stark transformation.
Before the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was an international fugitive, he was running a little-noticed experiment in radical transparency. In the early 2000s, his then-obscure site WikiLeaks was mainly concerned with posting small batches of previously private documents ranging from Swiss bank documents to Sarah Palin’s emails.
Then, in 2010, WikiLeaks posted a graphic video depicting the killing of perhaps a dozen Iraqis, including two Reuters journalists, at the hands of the U.S. military. The video brought the organization acclaim from civil libertarians and transparency advocates, and infamy within the U.S. military and elsewhere. Soon after its release, WikiLeaks posted its largest-ever cache of leaked material: a set of diplomatic cables and Army documents, many of which concerned the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If WikiLeaks began as a mere internet curiosity when it was founded in 2006, within four years, national-security officials in the United States were publicly depicting it as a threat.
In their tween and teenage years, girls become dramatically less self-assured—a feeling that often lasts through adulthood.
The change can be baffling to manyparents: Their young girls are masters of the universe, full of gutsy fire. But as puberty sets in, their confidence nose-dives, and those same daughters can transform into unrecognizably timid, cautious, risk-averse versions of their former self.
Over the course of writing our latest book, we spoke with hundreds of tween and teen girls who detailed a striking number of things they don’t feel confident about: “making new friends,” “the way I dress,” “speaking in a group.” In our research, we worked with Ypulse, a polling firm that focuses on tweens and teens, to survey more than 1,300 girls from the ages of 8 to 18 and their parents. (The sample was broadly representative of the country’s teen population in terms of race and geographic distribution.) The data is more dramatic than we’d imagined: The girls surveyed were asked to rate their confidence on a scale of 0 to 10, and from the ages of 8 to 14, the average of girls’ responses fell from approximately 8.5 to 6—a drop-off of 30 percent.
Language apps like Duolingo are addictive—but not particularly effective.
Late one chilly evening last September, I excused myself from a small group huddled around a campfire to peck at and mumble into my phone.
No way was a camping trip going to make me miss my Italian lesson.
For most of the preceding year, I had religiously attended to my 15-minute-or-so daily encounters with the language-learning app Duolingo. I used it on trains, while walking across town, during previews at the movie theater. I was planning a trip to Rome in the late spring, and I’ve always been of the mind that to properly visit a country, you’ve got to give the language a shot.
But I had another reason for sticking with it: Duolingo is addictive. It pulled me right in, helping me set daily goals and then launching into simple phrases. Sometimes it demanded that I speak an Italian phrase or sentence (which I always did correctly, to hear Duolingo tell it). But more often it asked me to translate Italian phrases and sentences into English, or vice versa, providing multiple-choice responses. No tedious grammar or vocabulary drills—that stuff, apparently, would seep into my consciousness via exposure to increasingly varied, complex, and interesting sentences.
Between 1 and 5 percent of U.S. adoptions get legally dissolved each year. Some children are put up for “second-chance adoptions.”
The little girl in the photograph squints and smiles broadly in the sunlight. According to a now-deleted public post on Second Chance Adoptions’ Facebook page, the girl, who the agency calls “Reese” to protect her privacy, is 10 years old, and she has been a member of her family since she was born—first in foster care, then legally adopted just before her first birthday. She loves to laugh, her adopted mom says, and she smiles all the time. She loves pink. She has no special needs. But she needs a new home.
In other posts with more pictures, the reader learns that Reese is the youngest of four daughters; the other three are the biological children of her parents. She gets straight A’s. She loves her parents and her sisters. She grumbles only when her siblings ask her to clean her room. She rarely lies and loves to wear skirts and dresses and listen to music. But according to the information provided by her parents, “This family has drastically changed their lifestyle and have left their faith and extended family for a quiet, secluded life.” It is their hope that “a different family will step forward who can provide her with the socialization and continued relationship with God that she desires.” After spending her whole life thus far with her family, Reese was being advertised on Facebook and the internet at large as available for re-adoption.