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I Can Gripe About My Ride-Sharing Company to Passengers, Right?

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Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 05.22.17.
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Time of Publication: 9:00 am.
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I Can Gripe About My Ride-Sharing Company to Passengers, Right?

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NISHANT CHOKSI

I drive for a ride-sharing service, and sometimes I complain about my company to passengers. Should I stop?

Daniel Heimbinder is an artist who creates singularly enthralling, extremely busy, bizarre drawings. I’m hesitant to describe them, since even professional art critics seem incapable of doing so gracefully. Here’s The New York Times: “A hefty blonde sits on the shoulder of a party host in a pink smoking jacket, who poses triumphantly on a sprawled animal skin fronted by a pig with an apple in its mouth. A tiny nude holds up one of the man’s legs … Several donkeys in the background await the ­pinning-­on of tails by guests.”

I first encountered Heimbinder’s work 20 years ago, when I saw an early, comparatively simple painting of his on a friend’s wall. It showed Spider-Man slinging webs over a tangle of freeways and skyscrapers. Its title was The Übermensch vs. Houston.

In a civilization that’s shrugged off God, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, an Übermensch (literally: superman) operates within his own morality, striving for greatness no matter how it might be misunderstood or reviled by the masses. Heimbinder recently explained to me that he’d always seen Houston, his home city, as a kind of civic Übermensch: a municipality without zoning ordinances, expanding only in accordance with its own whims. He remembers wanting to see these two rogues—the web-slinging superhero and the sprawl-slinging city—pitted against each other.

The secret of Heimbinder’s work is that it often consists of sardonic allusions to familiar stories, mashed up to undermine or frustrate each other. While we talked, for example, he texted me a picture of a large work in progress. In one tiny section, a frog is crossing a river with a scorpion on its back, while a fox is crossing in the other direction with a gingerbread man on its nose.

These are references to two different fables. In the first, the scorpion promises not to hurt the frog during the crossing, then stings him anyway. In the other, the gingerbread man trusts the fox to carry it across, only to be eaten. “In one scenario,” Heimbinder says, “the passenger is untrustworthy. In the other, it’s what’s conveying the passenger that’s untrustworthy.” And so it is with ride sharing.

I thought of Heimbinder after reading, earlier this year, about a disagreement: Uber versus Houston. The city, in an un-Houstonly move, had enacted a host of ride-sharing regulations in 2014, and Uber was threatening to pull out rather than have its drivers comply. Only when Houston was about to host the Super Bowl—a potential bonanza for ride-sharing apps—did Uber agree to a truce.

It’s a familiar story. We’re accustomed to seeing startups behave as if they are beyond all petty constraints. Even basic decorum seems, at times, optional. No doubt you’ve seen the now-famous video of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick telling off his Uber driver?

To be clear, I don’t know your complaints or which company you drive for. But I wonder if you don’t feel supported or valued by it. If that’s the case, then I believe you may speak freely. I’m all for collegiality and loyalty, but it’s hard not to feel like a sucker when you’re the only one abiding by such ideals. The trouble with Übermensches is the chaos they spawn. Elevate your own value system above any sense of communality and others will do the same. Rules fray when they become optional; so does trust. You wind up with the kind of congested, omnidirectional madness that Heimbinder loves to draw.

“We use stories to understand the world, to organize our minds,” Heimbinder told me. “But I’m showing that when they’re put together on the same plane, they don’t mesh. The end result is confused, ugly, awkward.”

You are one tiny figure who has stepped into just such a large, complicated mess. You’re entitled to your own story—to say it out loud—even if it makes the mess a tiny bit messier.
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Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 05.03.17.
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Time of Publication: 10:00 am.
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Mr. Know-It-All: How Do I Deal With My Friend the Encryption Hypocrite?

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Nishant Choksi

My pal won’t text me because I don’t use Signal. But he’ll say anything on social media. He’s being annoying, right?

When I think of encryption, I think of Robert Frost. I’ve noticed that the poet is often quoted by cyber­security consultants. “Good fences make good neighbors,” they like to say, quoting from Frost’s “Mending Wall” as if it were a posthumous endorsement of their products and services. The message is: Encryption is common sense, an ageless good. And while I can’t quibble with their underlying point—particularly in this fraught moment, when we’d all do well to be more vigilant about privacy—the truth is they’re recklessly misreading Frost.

In “Mending Wall,” Frost describes working with his neighbor to rebuild the rock wall that runs along their property line, after another season of wear and tear. It may sound quaint and cooperative and cheerful, but to Frost the whole project is absurd. Because there’s no reason, the poet tells us, to have a wall in the first place. His property is an apple orchard, and the other guy just has woods; neither man has any livestock that might trespass and damage the other’s crops. But the neighbor isn’t so bright, we gather. He just keeps insisting they maintain the wall, and his only justification is something his father used to tell him—a vapid maxim he reflexively repeats because he loves the sound of it so damn much. “Good fences make good neighbors,” the fellow keeps telling Frost.

In short, “good fences make good neighbors” is not the ironclad wisdom our Frost-citing security bros believe it to be. Instead, it represents the exact opposite: the kind of pleasant little ditty we sing to distract everyone, including ourselves, from the fact that we haven’t the slightest idea why we’re doing what we’re doing. And this, I believe, perfectly captures the problem with your friend.

He shows a certain buffoonish lack of self-awareness—marshaling a grating vigi­lance along one line of his virtual property without taking stock of the bigger, more permeable picture. Before building a barrier, Frost writes, it’s wise to consider what you’ll be “walling in or walling out.” Your friend is myopically focused on walling out hypothetical evil snoops, but one actual person he has walled out is you. Is he being annoying? You bet.

Then again, what really seems to be rankling you is your friend’s hypocrisy. And I’m afraid I can’t support you getting on your high horse over that. I think of hypocrisy as a momentary glitch in an ethical operating system—a sign that we aren’t quite aligning the person we want to be with the person we are. Your friend, for example, is obviously anxious about safeguarding privacy all of a sudden. Just as obviously, he’s doing a crappy job of it. Your task is not to turn away from your infuriatingly hypocritical friend but toward him: to point this out, respectfully, and help nudge his clumsy behavior closer to his sensible ideal. It seems your friend—and Frost’s neighbor—could both use a tutorial on threat modeling. (Look it up.)

If I could pick a different Frost poem for the encryption industry to adopt as its anthem, I’d take a cue from the blog Datonomy, which identified a lesser-known Frost lyric called “A Mood Apart” as the most apt critique of surveillance. In that poem Frost is kneeling in his garden, quietly singing to himself as he futzes about, when he suddenly senses some schoolkids standing at his fence, spying on him. It creeps him out. “I stopped my song and almost heart,” he writes. “For any eye is an evil eye / That looks in onto a mood apart.”

We’re all living, to one degree or another, with the creepy suspicion that people out there are sinisterly looking down on us. Now you see your friend acting on that suspicion, nervously futzing about with his personal privacy regimen. Don’t just stand there at the fence, looking down on him yourself.
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Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 04.06.17.
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Time of Publication: 1:00 pm.
۱:۰۰ pm

Sorry, But if You’re Married, Browsing Tinder Totally Makes You a Snake

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Christoph Niemann

I’m married. Is it wrong to get a Tinder account and look at it, even if I have no intention of contacting anyone?

As a matter of convenience—since your question is low on information—I’m going to make some assumptions about you before we proceed. First, I’m going to assume you are a male and straight. (Maybe I’m succumbing to certain prejudices about straight males; nevertheless, it’s what I’m going to assume.) More important, I’m going to assume you’re a decent person and a loyal partner and take you at your word that you have no intention of cheating on your wife.

Now, having done all that, I’m going to compare you to a snake. The brown tree snake, specifically: Boiga irregularis. Surely you’ve heard of it. It’s fanged, venomous, and can top out at 10 feet long. And there are roughly 1.5 million of them sliding around Guam, a land mass only a fifth the size of Rhode Island

The snake doesn’t belong in Guam; it’s invasive, having likely first arrived there after World War II. (It’s believed that the species—possibly just one pregnant female—stowed away on military equipment.) As its population exploded, the snake devoured the island’s native birds and lizards, literally swallowing many of them into extinction. Brown tree snakes frequently cause power outages on the island. They slip into buildings and garbage cans. They are a menace—ecologically but also just in a nightmarish, snaky way. They have set off chain reactions that no one could have anticipated and that no one wants to put up with.

And so, since 1993, the US government has spent millions of dollars a year trying to contain and eradicate them. It has tried everything, from the commonsensical to the baroque: snake barriers, snake traps, snake-sniffing dogs. In 2013 the US air-dropped 14,000 dead mice affixed with tiny cardboard parachutes and laced with poison. Of this gambit, one federal technician wrote, “It seems simple and straightforward.” Well, not really. But that’s the point—the solutions are just as unimaginable as the problem.

Now, my first reaction to your question was simple. I wanted to butt out. I wanted to say, essentially, that whether you should be allowed to lurk on Tinder is exclusively up to you and your wife. If she’s cool with it and you’re cool with it, what does it matter if it strikes me as weird and, well, a little lecherous? Maybe for you it’s just an innocent form of people watching, a way for you to commune, like some left- and right-swiping Walt Whitman, with the fantastic breadth of humanity.

But the truth is, as fascinated as many of us married people are by Tinder, it’s just not a place for us. We are an invasive species. Granted, we’re not going to gobble up the natives, reproduce like mad, and cause power outages. But no matter your intentions, you will, almost inevitably, cause ancillary and unpredictable disruptions. What if someone likes the look of you and wants to meet? Is it fair to incite that kind of hope—even for a split second—if you are, as you say, unavailable? And who would you be displacing? What if the algorithm shoves you at someone, at a particular moment, instead of an actual Mr. Right? Or Mr. Right Enough? Or Mr. Why the Hell Not? Any number of misters have more legitimacy and claim to that spot than you do.

And that’s just it: You’d be occupying a space you just shouldn’t occupy. The moral question here, I realized, hinges not just on your good faith toward your wife but on your good faith toward the many strangers you’d also—just by virtue of setting up a profile—be entering into a relationship with.

I know you’re not a fundamentally bad or scummy person. (Or so I’ve assumed.) But bear in mind that none of those 1.5 million snakes is inherently scummy either. They’re all just slithering around, eating and breeding, storing up their poison, searching out new spaces with their creepy wet tongues.
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Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 03.21.17.
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Time of Publication: 11:00 am.
۱۱:۰۰ am

Talk to Your Kids About Inappropriate Pics on Facebook

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Christoph Niemann

My 7-year-old took pictures of my naked 3-year-old and almost put them on Facebook. How do I explain this is a bad idea?

You say something accurate and honest, but necessarily infantilizing. You say, “We call our private parts ‘private’ for a reason. And even though Facebook looks like another game on my phone, it’s actually a kind of public place: Lots of people, even strangers, can see what we post there. So when you post a naked picture of your [brother/sister], it’s like walking up and down [crowded street in your town] showing that picture to everyone who walks by. It’s sharing something private in public. And it’s inappropriate.”

Then you exhale deeply, pour the kid a glass of juice or let them settle in with a popsicle, and continue: “There was once an oral surgeon named Lytle S. Adams. He lived a long time ago, when America was fighting a war against Japan. Japan had attacked a military base in Hawaii, and—the day that happened—Adams was on vacation at Carlsbad Caverns. That’s a system of caves in New Mexico, where thousands and thousands of bats live. Adams was very impressed with the bats, and he came up with an idea: a swarm of weaponized bats, with miniature incendiary bombs strapped to their bodies—bats that would be dropped over Japanese cities to streak through the air, scatter far and wide, and then explode, sparking thousands of little fires all over the place, burning down buildings and frightening everyone.

“Adams was friendly with Eleanor Roosevelt, the president’s wife, and he used his connections to send a brief to the president; the president gave it to a military commander with a note that said, ‘This man is not a nut.’ And so, by 1943, there was a top secret bat-bomb project up and running in several states, eventually called Project X-Ray.

“Adams and his team drove thousands of miles, visiting caves to trap and assess the viability of various bat species. They painstakingly engineered tiny bombs, weighing 28 grams or less, and developed techniques for clipping them to loose skin that puckers off a bat’s chest. They devised ways to release armed battalions from a B-25—۱۸۰ bats at a time—in a sealed container specially made at a factory reportedly owned by Bing Crosby. It was a kind of metabomb that would—once it reached a survivable altitude for bats—deploy a parachute and spring open, releasing the bats and somehow also pulling the pins on their time-delayed, exploding payloads. The military threw $2 million at the idea and ran 30 separate demonstrations. More than 6,000 bats were drafted.

“But as an article in Air Force Magazine notes, ‘There were many complications.’ For one thing, the bats had to be squashed into ice cube trays and refrigerated to trigger hibernation so they could be more easily handled by the men and women clipping bombs to their chests. And many of the animals, once the giant metabomb popped open, simply never woke up. Or the clips ripped out of their skin. Or the bombs didn’t trigger. Great numbers of insubordinate bats simply ‘refused to co­operate and plummeted to earth.’ Once, a rogue flock of bat conscripts escaped through an open door wearing live explosives. They set fire to a brand-new military hangar, destroying it, and burned out a commanding officer’s car.”

Pause a second. Let the story sink in. Then say, “I know it’s confusing that I’m telling you about bat-bombs, honey, but here’s my point: Bats are just little animals, right? And they shouldn’t be given powerful bombs—it’s just too dangerous! Well, a phone is powerful too; you can do a lot of damage with it. And so it was foolish of me to let you have mine and to let you almost post things to Facebook. I don’t know what I was thinking, honestly. You’re only 7 years old, after all. It’s my fault—not yours. How’s your popsicle? I love you.”
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Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 03.15.17.
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Time of Publication: 11:00 am.
۱۱:۰۰ am

Dentists Probably Shouldn’t Mock Their Patients on Facebook

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Christoph Niemann

My dentist is making crude, somewhat cruel jokes about patients on Facebook. What should I do?

Mouths make us human. They speak. They kiss. They quiver and smile and argue and sing. To wrench a mouth open and poke around inside is an act of harrowing intimacy. A lot of people don’t like their dentists. A lot of people, I’d argue, even hate their dentists. But we all implicitly trust our dentists, at least a little bit, because we keep lying back and opening wide. And so, though so many of us casually talk smack about our dentists, a dentist talking smack about us feels like a special betrayal.

There’s a dentist we all know—and, for a time, all seemed to hate. I’m not going to write his name here because, frankly, I feel he has suffered enough and don’t want to add to the intractable scarring on his online reputation, but let’s just say this: He was probably the only dentist to murder a famous lion last year.

The lion’s name, I will say: It was Cecil. Cecil was 13 years old, with black wisps in his mane and an impressive set of chompers. He lived in and around Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, where he was a stellar attraction and part of long-term scientific study, and in July 2015 this dentist came, having reportedly paid more than $50,000 for the right to kill a lion, and shot him with an arrow. The situation got complicated. (The dentist blamed his guides for luring the lion out of the park; authorities in Zimbabwe cleared the dentist of any wrongdoing.) And eventually, once the dentist was identified, great waves of righteous online anger rose up around the world and pummeled him.

The dentist’s Yelp reviews, in particular, exploded into a violent garbage fire of brutality and spite. They called the dentist Dr. Mengele. They called him a “dickless piece of shit!” Samples: “Die you rotten scum of the earth.” “I hope he goes down in FLAMES! Burn, [dentist], BURN!” “True son of Satan. I hope you and your family contract cyphillis [sic] and gonorrhea and then your kids die of aids [sic] and you have to watch that.” That last review was voted “useful” by seven other Yelp users. Four voted it “cool.”

I like lions—sure. But, for our purposes, let’s try to put the lion aside. What does it take to threaten a man’s life like this? His family’s lives? Maybe we all have access, deep down, to this hypertrophic species of hate, but what does it take to lose sight of the basic compassion, or at least decorum, that connects us as a society and deploy it?

I’d argue it takes distance—a buffer. The internet is such a buffer. And so is an angry mob to hide within. This explains why your dentist is sinisterly objectifying and insulting his patients on Facebook instead of when he is looking into their human eyes, knuckles-deep in their human mouths. On social media, he can be confident and ruthless and brave—which is to say, like so many of us, he’s really a coward.

I don’t know what your dentist is saying, specifically, but I can certainly imagine some things. And it’s creepy. It’s terrible. And it speaks to his character. If I were you, I’d stop being his patient; I just wouldn’t feel comfortable in that chair, with him looming over me, anymore.

And then what? One instinct is to expose him online, perhaps igniting a similar public shaming episode in your local community as befell that other dentist globally. This would be an understandable response. Satisfying. Seemingly just, with an ancillary benefit of warning others. But what if, instead, you broke that cycle of abstracted and buffered public aggression and tried to talk to him first yourself? What if you paid him the basic respect he’d lapsed into forgetting that he owed others and gave him the opportunity to feel remorse and change? It would take courage—maybe more courage than can be reasonably expected of a person. But it’s beautiful to imagine you showing him the error of his ways: the patient making the dentist swallow hard and say “Ah.”
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Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 03.14.17.
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Time of Publication: 11:30 am.
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Cool It: You Don’t Have to Be on Every Social Media App

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CHRISTOPH NIEMANN

Do I have to try every social media app?

You’ve Got Mail starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan and was an awful movie. I watched it in a hotel room recently and found myself thinking about you—thinking about all of us, really. To summarize: It is 1998. Hanks is the cocky, hard-charging scion of a massive Barnes & Noble-ish bookstore chain, about to open a new location on the Upper West Side. Ryan, meanwhile—vulnerable, sappy, like a human kitten—owns a tiny children’s bookstore nearby called the Shop Around the Corner. Ryan’s shop is everything that Hanks’ is not: quaint, neighborly, beloved. And, of course, it stands to be crushed by this encroaching tentacle of Hanks’ Machiavellian empire.

There’s a lot of anxiety in the air. Thematically, the film is concerned with what modernity (symbolized by Hanks and maybe also his high-octane girlfriend, who literally shouts, “Hurry, hurry, hurry!” at her espresso machine) might be doing to our souls (symbolized by Ryan and her boyfriend, who is referred to at a party as the “greatest living expert on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg”). This anxiety is everywhere. It’s a shame kids don’t know what handkerchiefs are, someone says. When office workers play solitaire on their computers, it’s lamented as “the end of Western civilization.”

It’s all so heavy-handed. But here’s the thing: As the bitter Hanks-Ryan bookstore rivalry escalates on the street, Hanks and Ryan are falling in love with each other via email, anonymously. They meet in some kind of chat room and begin emailing each other relentlessly, pouring out their feelings and the poignant whispers of their simpleton hearts. It’s dramatic irony, you see—they love each other in cyberspace, hate each other in meatspace—and the filmmakers milk it for all it’s worth. Scene after scene cuts back and forth between Hanks and Ryan, reading emails on their laughably briefcaselike laptops. Every time that cheery voice tells them “Welcome. You’ve got mail,” it’s a Pavlovian cue that flutters their stomachs and tingles their privates. It’s hard to think of two happier people in the history of film.

But you know what? Joke’s on them. Because what Hanks and Ryan do not know, and can’t possibly predict, is that the same series of tubes that’s serving as a conduit for their love will soon obliterate both their businesses! Soon they’ll both be irrelevant! They’re just too blissed out by each other’s electronic mail messages to recognize that this thing in front of them—this Internet—is also a merciless destroyer of worlds.

Reader, they are us; we are them. We’re blind to the transience of so many things we feel attached to, or else we are so attuned to their transience that we don’t allow ourselves to get attached. The truth is, even as I type this, laughing and smirking at You’ve Got Mail, I understand that someone in the near future will be similarly laughing and smirking at me. (“Typing?!” they’ll say.)

Are you obligated to try new social media apps? Not at all. Use what you enjoy. Try what you think you’d enjoy. Or don’t. You alone get to map out the borders of your online life. But you are, I think, obligated to stay open to exploring new social media apps—to keep yourself from becoming too jaded, too dismissive—and to always entertain the possibility that one of them might become meaningful and useful to you. I mean, I sunk a lot of time into Friendster back in the day, and I don’t regret it. I recognize that, like Hanks and Ryan, I was merely living contentedly in the present, without knowing that the magic of that moment would inevitably crumble—or even worrying about whether it might.

“Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life … And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it or because I haven’t been brave?” Ryan typed that, sent it to Hanks. Now I’m putting the question to you.
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Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 03.10.17.
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Time of Publication: 11:00 am.
۱۱:۰۰ am

No Good at Emoji? Don’t Give Up

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Christoph Niemann

I’m horrible at emoji—it’s like a foreign language for me. I always get “???” replies from friends. What should I do?

In 1918, a moderately but fleetingly famous Belgian man named Jean Pierre Pierard published an intriguing column in an American newspaper. Pierard was an actor, sometimes billed as “Le Colosse,” since he happened to weigh 342 pounds. (He was just a tremendous, tremendous fellow.) He was also the “Most Married Man in the World,” and this was the particular expertise with which he was writing. What does it mean to be the Most Married Man in the World? Well, at the time, Pierard was on his 23rd wife. Since 1886 he’d averaged one marriage every 1.4 years. But still, he felt strongly that “it is not good for man to be alone.”

This is the most important thing for you to know about Pierard—and I mean you specifically, my weird emoji-aphasic friend: Jean Pierre Pierard loved being married. He loved the institution of marriage—held it in the highest esteem—and felt a strong obligation to defend and venerate it against anyone who was starting to view it with the least bit of cynicism. “I believe in marriage,” he wrote. Deep down in the hallows of his giant being, the man was a romantic. And an optimist. And nothing about the clumsiness with which his optimism or romanticism kept colliding with reality was going to drain those feelings out of him. “It may surprise you to hear it,” Pierard wrote, “but it’s the truth, that every one of these 23 times I’ve taken out a marriage license I’ve done so with the same glow of hope and faith that I had the first time.” Being married brought him joy, so he kept getting married, even if he was lousy at it. Then he kept getting married some more.

I assume that you see where I’m going. It should be obvious, especially since I’ve written it all in not-fun alphabet letters. You’re correct that emoji are essentially a foreign language. So the only way to increase your fluency in them is with real-world practice—which is to say, by failing a lot, but paying enough attention to your failures to learn from them, and by asking more skillful speakers, people you feel totally supported and unjudged by, for help and safe opportunities to practice. But most important, don’t let anyone, with their snide ???s, spoil the pleasure those emoji bring to you. Don’t be ashamed!

Summing up:
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OK? Just one more thing about Pierard: For a time, he attempted a career as a professional wrestler. It seems like the ideal job for Le Colosse—he could just fall on people and flatten them—and yet he was terrible at this too, maybe even more terrible than he was at marriage. Because he was ticklish—tremendously ticklish. He simply could not “permit of any contact with his ribs while wrestling,” The New York Times wrote, without being debilitated by his own giggling. All that his opponents had to do, no matter how small they were, was flutter their fingers around Le Colosse’s colossal midsection, topple him, and hold him down for the count. It was basically over before it began.

And, honestly, that’s how I’d love to picture you: joyously thumb-typing your syntactically jumbled, incomprehensible kissy faces, fires, whales, and eggplants without a care in the world, pinned on the mat but laughing and laughing and laughing. Do that and you’re 2406_kia_emoji-13.r1.jpg.

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magazine-24.06

Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 03.09.17.
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Time of Publication: 11:00 am.
۱۱:۰۰ am

Don’t Wear a Fitbit Just Because Your Partner Says So

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CHRISTOPH NIEMANN

My girlfriend got me a Fitbit, but the data makes me feel lazy and ashamed. Do I have to keep using it?
I was in my kitchen the other night, slow dancing with my toddler before bedtime, when the Coldplay song “Fix You” came on—a song, I remembered reading, that Chris Martin wrote for then-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow after her father died—and I found myself feeling genuinely bummed, all over again, that Chris and Gwyneth had split up. I wondered what had torn them apart or whether—as these things often go—they hadn’t been torn apart but slowly undone by some dark, unspoken dissatisfaction or resentment that gradually multiplied until there was so much cumulative darkness between them that it blotted out whatever had been luminescent about their love. And that’s when I thought about you and your girlfriend and your Fitbit.

I also thought about Steve Etkin. Etkin is an engineer by training and by temperament who enjoys walking. And so a year ago, his daughter, Jordan, bought him a Fitbit. It seemed like the perfect gift. “I started receiving daily updates,” she told me, “about the number of steps he walked, the stairs he climbed. After a few weeks, I was like, ‘Hey, Dad, you’re really treating this like a job.’ ” (She was also like, hey, Dad, I don’t need all these updates.)

Anyway, it got her thinking. And, because she studies consumer behavior at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, she designed a study to test whether, as she put it to me, trackers like Fitbits have the capacity to “suck the enjoyment” out of previously pleasurable activities. Guess what. They do.

Etkin’s study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research. She ran a series of six experiments. In one, for example, she gave her subjects a 16-pack of Crayolas, then made a big show of tracking how many shapes one group colored in while letting others color freely, unencumbered by quantification. She did similar experiments with walking and reading, and in every one discovered the same basic result. “Measurement led participants to color more shapes, walk more steps, and read more pages. At the same time, however, it led people to enjoy coloring, walking, and reading less.” In short, people did more but felt worse doing it. Tracking redefined fun activities as work.

One problem here is that by focusing on quantifiable outcomes, trackers can diminish intrinsic motivation, which makes people stick with activities. Therefore, “measurement may sometimes actually undermine sustainable behavior change,” Etkin writes. Those insurance companies giving Fitbits to their policyholders might be shooting themselves in the (demotivated, stationary) foot.

But you know all this. It’s precisely the cycle of incentivizing and disincentivizing, of judgment and anxiety, afflicting you: that feeling that you can never take enough steps or unlock enough REM sleep. (“When you try your best but you don’t succeed … When you feel so tired but you can’t sleep.”) And, as it afflicts you, it widens the emotional space between you and your girlfriend—it feeds a smoldering grudge, because she handcuffed you with this thing. She tried to fix you, my friend. But her fixing made you feel more broken.

So you’ve got to talk to your girlfriend and take the Fitbit off, even though Etkin’s research suggests this is the worst thing you could do. (When people start tracking then suddenly stop, the fun is still ruined, but they also lose the benefit of increased output—a double whammy of underperformance and joylessness.) But who cares? It could be the only way for you and your partner to remain consciously coupled.
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magazine-24.04

Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 03.08.17.
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Time of Publication: 7:00 am.
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When Your Kid Asks a Question, Hand Them a Book—Not a Phone

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Christoph Niemann

When my 5-year-old asks a question, is there a difference between looking it up in a book and just using my phone?

Recently, I watched David Kwong do some sleight of hand in a crowded theater lobby. Kwong is a magician who often consults on Hollywood films. (When a director needs, say, Jesse Eisenberg to learn a magic trick, they send him to Kwong.) Anyway, Kwong sauntered over to a guy with a deck of cards and asked him to pick one.

Honestly, I don’t know how to describe what happened next. For 30 minutes, Kwong made cards materialize in outrageous, stupefying ways, as though he were nonchalantly sliding them in and out of a parallel universe. Someone’s card flew out of the deck, spinning through the air. Another turned up in a guy’s back pocket—and not just in his back pocket, but buried deep, between his wallet and a bundle of crumpled receipts. Kwong asked someone to rip a card into four pieces, then hold them in his fist; when he opened his hand, the card was reassembled!

Maybe this doesn’t sound that impressive, written down. We all know card tricks are a thing. But the way Kwong kept relentlessly confronting us with the impossible—seeing this sorcery at close range—seemed to not just entertain people but to make them feel vulnerable and a little scared. People mewled and screamed, “No!” One poor man was reduced to crouching on the floor, laughing so euphorically he couldn’t catch his breath. (OK, that was me.) The guy with the ripped-up card in his fist refused to open it at first, shaking his head like a child terrified to look at his boo-boo, afraid of what he’d find. “He has total power over us,” one woman said quietly, gravely. She sounded creeped out. It was so much fun!

Now, I’m sure everyone in that crowd wondered how Kwong was doing it, but it’s a rare bird who goes home and actually labors to understand the mechanics of how such tricks are engineered. (Those rare birds become magicians—it’s how Kwong got his start.) Most of us perceive magic tricks to be unreplicable, to violate the reality we inhabit. They’re, you know, magic.

To a 5-year-old, phones are magic. The internet is magic. An older kid might be able to understand the technology and infrastructure involved, the nature of Wikipedia, and so on, but for a child so young, the answer just appears, miraculously, like a playing card yanked from a bystander’s back pocket. Leafing through a book together, by comparison, is a more collaborative, tactile, self-evident process. It’s a journey toward the answer, one that your child gets to go on.

What I’m talking about is the difference between learning and being told, between answering a specific question and getting a child excited about answering it on their own. It’s fun to amaze your 5-year-old, sure. But it’s more gratifying to set your kid up to one day amaze you.
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magazine-24.01

Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 03.06.17.
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Time of Publication: 11:00 am.
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Is It Uncool to Flirt on LinkedIn?

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Christoph Niemann

Is flirting on LinkedIn less weird than on other social media? After all, it can vouch for you in a substantive way.

Whoa. Hang on. Let’s first poke at the premise of your question, because the implications here are huge. Notice how you casually presume your résumé offers a more substantive representation of your basic humanity than, say, all the tweets you’ve tweeted or all the digital artifacts amassed on your Facebook page. Think of the photos on Facebook alone: You in a rowboat with the gentle-looking man playing a banjo whom we understand to be your deceased (too young) father. You being silly—but not obnoxiously silly, just innocently, endearingly silly—in the Halloween aisle of a big-box store. You tagged in a photo of that kid you mentored that one summer, as he graduates from Berkeley. You climbing a goddamned mountain! Like, with pickaxes and stuff!

Do these not substantively communicate the substance of your life? Don’t they “vouch” for you to potential dates as a safe, noncreepy, sufficiently together human being, a sympathetic soul tumbling through the fundamental experience of being alive and looking for companionship? Or is that better captured with a line like this: “January 2013-November 2014, Senior Operations Associate, Mobitly Inc.”?

You seem to think it is. And I’ll admit—begrudgingly—that you may have a point. Because the lines have been blurred between our work lives and our emotional lives, our careers and our intrinsic selves. We subconsciously gauge a person’s character by their professional standing, and our experiences and attitude toward our work aren’t only sometimes relevant to our love lives. In fact, the two can feel crucially interwoven: The best startup founders are those who operate out of passion and devotion and with a kind of hyper-monogamous obsession. On the other hand, we all feel obligated to work on our relationships with the same myopic, idealistic intensity. And it can feel natural to apply the lessons we learn relating to people in one realm to our relationships in the other.

Take, for example, Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s CEO. I confess, I’m not a LinkedIn user, but I’ve been reading up on Weiner and, I have to say, he seems like a wonderful guy—a principled, thoughtful man who says very grounded, Jerry Maguire-type things like, “I’ve never been title-driven; for the most part, I’ve been purpose-driven.” He also reads books by the Dalai Lama, contemplates the difference between compassion and empathy, and practices mindfulness techniques like “being a spectator to my own thoughts,” which enhance his ability to relate to and motivate his employees. He calls his style “compassionate management.”

In an essay he wrote a few years ago, Weiner described leaving work one evening, feeling proud of the strides he’d made as a compassionate manager, only to be felled by the epiphany that he’d been very uncompassionately neglecting his wife. He was working so hard, he wrote, that at night, “when my wife would try to bring up her day, or talk about the things we need to get done, I would reflexively say something to the effect that it had been a long day, I was exhausted, and could we talk about it some other time?” In other words: “For as hard as I worked to manage compassionately at the office, I was not always actively applying the same approach with my family.” So Weiner applied the same compassionate management style to his marriage and made things right.

I worry that sounds off, like the emotionally tone-deaf insights of a stereotypical tech baron. But trust me, the way Weiner explained it, it sounded cool—real. (And know this too: Worried that I’d gush in this column about Weiner’s coolness and realness only to learn later that Weiner is actually not cool and not real and is, in truth, as imperious as Genghis Khan or a Grade A, misogynistic, steroidal jerk, I sat down and Googled “Jeff Weiner LinkedIn jerk” and was happy to find, as the first result, a post singling him out as a “counterweight” to the industry’s many other CEO-jerks. So that was reassuring—even if the post was published on LinkedIn. But even that can be interpreted as a testament to Weiner’s character, because it was Weiner, I learned, who had the vision to expand LinkedIn from a bland résumé farm into a successful publishing platform.)

I’ll go even further. I wouldn’t be surprised if a man as smart as Weiner already knows all this, knows that we live in an age where one of the prime, romantically reassuring things about another person—the thing that “vouches” for them best as a potential mate—is that they’re a trustworthy, hardworking, successful employee. And therefore, he also secretly knows that LinkedIn could be the ultimate dating site, though he wisely stops short of saying it. Instead, he just dog-whistles about that potential to attentive users and eagle-eyed investors, thus preserving the opportunity to pivot the company explicitly in that direction should the climate change and the need arise. Recently, for example, he told an interviewer, “Our core value proposition to members is to help them connect to opportunity,” and touted “the power of this as a platform to enable capital”—especially “human capital”—“to flow where it can best be leveraged.”

Isn’t he talking about dating, about setting people up? When Tevye and Golde’s daughters sang, “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match,” weren’t they basically asking a kind of social networking platform to send their own human capital flowing toward whichever shtetl boy would give it the highest valuation and invest? Why shouldn’t you flirt on LinkedIn? Why shouldn’t love be one of the opportunities LinkedIn connects us with?

So, yes. You are right. And you’ve taught me a lot—you and Jeff Weiner both. I can see clearly now how we’ve all tied ourselves into a knot of careerism and affection and equity and sex, and maybe that’s just the way it has to be. I’m remembering now what happened when Jerry Maguire—the real Jerry Maguire—showed up in that living room, shivering, trying to win back his wife, who also happened to be his business partner at their new sports-agenting startup, how he told her, “You … you complete me.” But, more important, there was the line he slipped her right before that famous line. Suddenly, in the middle of his monologue, he was compelled to say, like a man giving a keynote at a conference, “We live in a cynical world, a cynical world, and we work in a business of tough competitors.”

Why? Why include that? What could Jerry Maguire possibly have meant? I think he meant: The internet is full of sinister strangers. It’s a hostile place in which to offer up your soul. But here I am. Look at me. View my profile. I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn.
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magazine-23.12

Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 03.03.17.
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Time of Publication: 11:00 am.
۱۱:۰۰ am

Upset About All the Swearing in Your Office? Too Damn Bad

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Christoph Niemann

I work in a casual tech setting and I’m shocked by how much everyone swears. Should I say something?

Imagine what it was like to be a Puritan in 1642. You’ve come to America. The landscape is crude and endless; the soundtrack, all hissing insects and howling wolves. “Everything about the place seemed godforsaken,” writes the natural historian Tim Flannery in his book The Eternal Frontier. That lawless emptiness is why you’re here—it means freedom. But in all free and empty places, there’s also room for wickedness to grow. Everybody in your little settlement is aware of this, which is why they panic when, one day, someone happens upon a young man named Thomas Granger having sex with a horse.

It’s worse than you thought: When confronted, Granger rapidly admits he’s also had intercourse with three cows, two goats, five sheep, and a turkey. This behavior is so savage—and feels like such a threat to the ethical society you’re laboring to build there in the wild—that you respond with a campaign of ruthless cleansing. You round up each animal Granger has had sex with and force the young man to watch while you slaughter it. (Not the turkey, though; for some reason, Flannery notes, no one bothers with the turkey.) And since you can’t tell which of the village’s sheep were the particular sheep Granger penetrated—his descrip­tions are imprecise—you herd every sheep in front of him, like a police lineup, and force him to ID the five in question. Then you kill those five sheep too. Then you kill Granger. Then you throw all their bodies together in one big pit.

Now, fast-forward 373 years. Let’s talk about you.

It’s easy to imagine you, hunched in your tech company’s open floor plan, forced to sit on an inflatable ball or perhaps issued one of those iconoclastic standing desks without a chair at all. You are a wary pilgrim on the wild, godless edge of America’s economic frontier. And, as such, you under­stand that the foul language your colleagues are using isn’t just unpleasant but morally precarious; if it continues unchecked, it could lead you all—your entire industry, really—to much darker places. You know, just as the Puritans did, that this kind of impropriety needs to be nipped in the bud.

That’s how you feel, right? Well, you’re wrong.

You’re not the Puritans. You’re the kid shtupping the cows. Because the lesson of the Granger story—as I read it—isn’t that morality always wins. It’s that the mob always wins. The majority’s norms always beat back and outlast the minority’s. And the mob can be cruel: They’ll kill the thing you love right in front of you, then dump you in the ground.

I think you need to go along with the mob.

Does it matter if my kid’s handwriting is terrible?

Well, I happen to love handwriting. I think it’s curiously fun to look at and a considerable, if mostly esoteric, value-add to the written language—even in an era of tablets and smartwatches and speech-recognition software. But does it matter if your child writes illegibly? My answer is no, probably not. Handwriting is an old technology—about 5,000 years old. And as with newer old technologies (muskets or floppy disks or cars with human beings driving them), some people may inevitably feel a tinge of melancholy watching it sputter into oblivion. And yet the truth is that humanity has always replaced old tools with new ones, and often, once we’ve pushed through the emotionally charged transitional phase and come out the other end, everything feels fine again.

Take, for example, a woman named Kristin Gulick in Bend, Oregon, who often has trouble reading messages scribbled by her chronically illegible office receptionist. “Yesterday I tried to dial a number that she’d written down, and I couldn’t read it,” Gulick told me recently. “I had to go back out and ask, ‘What does this say?’” And the receptionist was just like, ha ha ha, I know my handwriting’s terrible—you know, giggling the annoyance away. Was Gulick peeved? Yes. But was this a fireable offense or some irrevocable inconvenience? Not even close. In fact, Gulick really had no choice but to laugh the whole thing off too. “Thank God she’s good at other things!” she said, and life went on.

So there’s your answer. But who is Kristin Gulick, anyway? So glad you asked!

Handwriting may be one of those fundamentally human abilities—one that binds us to our own identities.

Gulick has been an occupational therapist for 28 years, specializ­ing in arms and hands. She’s in private practice now, but shortly after 9/11 she found herself working at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. A recent government report disclosed that more than 1,000 of the 50,000 soldiers who’ve been wounded in action in Iraq and Afghanistan—۲.۶ percent—have come back missing limbs, and Gulick was there to greet some of the first ones, helping them work around their loss and rejoin their life. Part of this work involved “transferring dominance” from one hand to the other; if a righty lost their right arm, say, they needed to learn to be a lefty now. And part of that was relearning handwriting—even just enough to fill out the deluge of hospital forms and sign their name.

Gulick found a total dearth of tools and curricula. Really, there was nothing. While she encouraged people to use first-grade handwriting primers early in her career, they were full of infantilizing penmanship exercises involving anthro­pomorphic animals. These books were not only unhelpful but degrading: Having lost a limb, many of these people were already feeling vulnerable and diminished. Now they were being treated—literally—like children. Gulick and an officer in the Army Medical Specialist Corps, Katie Yancosek, decided they could do better. “We’d give them exercises about balancing their checkbook and not about a little bunny or whatever,” Gulick said. The result was a six-week program, laid out in a workbook called Handwriting for Heroes. (The third edition was published this year.)

Look, I don’t mean to play some righteous, wounded-veteran card and make anyone feel bad. But I think we all see where this is going: It’s easy to write off handwriting only because most of us take it for granted. But I listened to Gulick talk about handwriting for a while, about what the ability to jot off a simple grocery list or be-right-back note for your spouse—functional but maybe also aesthetically pleasing or expressive, something you have created—does for a person’s sense of self-sufficiency and pride after working hard to regain that skill. How handwriting, really, may be one of those fundamentally human abilities—one that binds us, in a tiny way, to each other and to our own identities.

Your child won’t feel anything remotely like that sense of loss if they let their handwriting go to seed. Their lives will move forward in standardized fonts. If they absolutely have to write anything by hand, it may be disordered and illegible, but they can just laugh it off and explain (or text) what they meant. And that’s why I’ll stick with my first answer: It probably doesn’t matter. But I also think that, if we’re prepared to let handwriting go—to not care how ugly it gets—we should, at least, take a second to think about how beautiful it can be.
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magazine-23.08

Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 03.01.17.
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Time of Publication: 11:00 am.
۱۱:۰۰ am

Hell Yeah It’s OK to Confront the Butt-Dialers in Your Life

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Christoph Niemann

The same person keeps accidentally pocket-dialing me. Should I confront him?

Let’s zoom out for a second: For more than 40 years, scientists have been debating whether we should be actively sending messages into outer space or just using projects like SETI to listen for messages sent to us—and not just whether we should broadcast anything, but what and how. Do we shoot out a bunch of math, to show aliens we understand math? Do we send pictures? Music? And if so, what math? What pictures? What music? There have been scientific workshops to hash this out in Toulouse, Paris, Zagreb, Houston, and Mountain View. There have been peer-reviewed journal articles with titles like “The Art and Science of Interstellar Message Composition.” It’s a big, messy, excruciatingly meticulous back-and-forth.

And yet—all this time, while all those eggheads have been arguing—gobs and gobs of our satellite transmissions, television broadcasts, radio shows, and cell phone conversations have been quietly, sloppily spilling into outer space. It’s all just oozing off our planet and into the cosmos like so much electromagnetic sewage—a phenomenon scientists call leakage. In other words, we’re already beaming messages into the void—weak signals, but millions of them every day, without even realizing it or being careful about what we say. We are butt-dialing the universe!

Now say someone out there actually picks up that call. Wouldn’t you like to know? Yes, it’s embarrassing to realize we’ve made that sort of clumsy connection. But isn’t it always just a little bit nice to know we’ve made a connection at all? So my advice is: Tell this person. Tell him he reached you. Tell him you were there.

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CHRISTOPH NIEMANN

Is it unethical to crowdfund a project I don’t totally believe in?

A month after the Boston Tea Party, in January 1774—with the idea of rebellion gaining momentum in Boston and patriots feeling more powerful than the remaining loyalists in town—a strange character who called himself Joyce Junior started stoking that new sense of boldness on the streets. Junior walked around elaborately costumed, like some anarchist harlequin, and posted flyers threatening any “vile ingrates” who were still loyal to the crown. Loyalists should be punished, he wrote. And he slyly suggested precisely how, signing his treatises: “Chairman of the Committee for Tarring and Feathering.”

Ten days later, a low-level British government customs official, John Malcom, got into an argument with a well-known patriot shoemaker on the street.

One thing led to another, and soon an angry mob had “swarmed around [Malcom’s] house,” wrote Nathaniel Philbrick in his book Bunker Hill. Very quickly, all of Boston’s frustration and resentment with England began to come down on this one middling bureaucrat. The rioters bum-rushed Malcom’s home with ladders and axes. Once inside, they lashed him with sticks, then pushed him on a sled for hours through the snowy, unlit streets and bitter cold, collecting more irate Bostonians as they went. The mob mocked him. They threatened to cut off his ears. They beat him and beat him. Soon more than a thousand people had joined in. They ripped off Malcom’s clothes. They coated his skin with steaming tar. They covered him with feathers.

The abuse went on for hours. When they finally dumped Malcom in front of his house, Philbrick wrote: “his frozen body had begun to thaw, his tarred flesh started to peel off in ‘steaks.’”

It was awful—all of it. And apparently, it was particularly distressing to Joyce Junior, the Wavy Gravy-esque performance artist who’d threatened British loyalists with tarring and feathering in the first place—the man who’d hammered that idea into the public consciousness, inspiring all that brutality. We know Junior felt culpable, because he immediately started doing damage control, scrambling to disown his idea. Junior issued another statement. It began: “This is to certify that the modern punishment lately inflicted on the ignoble John Malcom was not done by our order.”

Now, I don’t think this project you want to crowdfund is likely to inadvertently encourage an angry mob to parboil an innocent man in his own flesh, then blanket him with feathers. But it’s important to remember that ideas are volatile, powerful things. And so are crowds. They have a way of infecting each other and taking on a life of their own. So all I’m saying is, be honest—be real. If you only kind of think it’s a good idea, it’s OK to say so. The crowd will decide for itself if you’re right. And it may surprise you.
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magazine-23.02

Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 02.28.17.
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Time of Publication: 11:00 am.
۱۱:۰۰ am

Dad Leaving Embarrassing Comments on Your Feeds? Let Him

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Christoph Niemann

My dad leaves incredibly embarrassing comments under every photo I post to Facebook and Instagram. What should I do?

Let’s face it: Dads are embarrassing. I remember, a couple of years ago, reading a newspaper story about a boy named Brooklyn who was so distressed by the prospect of his friends catching sight of his dweeby father that he insisted his dad drop him off around the corner from school and stay out of view. Why was this a newspaper story, you ask? Don’t millions of mortified children do this every day? Yes, and that’s my point. In this case, however, the dad in question was David Beckham.

See, dad-­barrassment is universal—a condition of existence, like the weather. What matters is how well we endure it: whether we slough it off or allow it to seep inside us.

Consider another famous dad: Teddy Roosevelt. Yes, that guy—America’s first presidential man’s man. This is a guy who hunted bears and lions, who got into bar fights with cowboys, who resigned as assistant secretary of the Navy to actually fight a war rather than just plan one. Teddy Roosevelt loved war. War was his jam. As the historian Alexis Coe told me recently, “He treated everything like a battlefield.” In October 1912, Roosevelt was about to give a campaign speech in Milwaukee when a would-be assassin shot him in the chest. The bullet ripped through the copy of his speech in his pocket. There was a big bloody wound. Still, Roosevelt spoke for more than an hour, like a wounded infantryman still bayoneting people on the battlefield.

I’d called Coe after listening to the podcast Presidents Are People Too!, which she cohosts with former Daily Show head writer Elliott Kalan. Their Roosevelt episode suggested that Teddy’s warmongering machismo was bound up in his dad. During the Civil War, Roosevelt had watched his father, Theodore senior, pay for a surrogate to fight in his place. For Teddy, Coe says, “this was always a great source of shame. His celebration of masculinity and war, his romanticization of war as an experience to all men, is a reaction to his dad.” And if, to overcompensate for this excruciating embarrassment, Roosevelt felt compelled to speechify for over an hour while his torso hemorrhaged, then that’s his decision. But it also affected his own parenting.

Roosevelt had four sons, and he wanted his boys to be the valorous warriors his own father hadn’t been. When World War I broke out, the youngest, Quentin, memorized an eye chart to ensure he’d pass his exam and be able to serve. He was, in short order, shot down and killed by the Germans. Roosevelt was crestfallen. “To feel that one has inspired a boy to conduct that has resulted in his death has a pretty serious side for a father,” he wrote. He died himself six months later.

But the misery he wrought continued. One son, Archibald, had his knee ripped apart by a grenade. Another, Ted Jr., was wounded in France, then died of a heart attack while serving in World War II. Kermit, Roosevelt’s second son, served in both wars, then ultimately shot himself in the head on a base in Alaska.

You wrote because you didn’t like some comments on Instagram and Facebook. I’m talking about shame and war and death. It’s hardly fair, you’ll say, and you’re right. But this story shows, I think, that dad-­barrassment is a powerful and unpredictable force; it warps the imagination, it pollutes the soul. The perpetrators are, inevitably, also victims.

By all means, ask your father—gently—if he wouldn’t mind toning down the comments. Tell him to text you privately instead, if you’d prefer. But ultimately the onus is not on your father to stop embarrassing you, but on you to reconcile the embarrassment you feel. I worry you’ve started seeing your father primarily as an engine of embarrassment, not as a complex human being entitled to express his wit, his playfulness, his love.

So, stomach it. Take the bullet, carry on.
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magazine-25.03

Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 02.27.17.
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Time of Publication: 11:00 am.
۱۱:۰۰ am

Are Some Animals So Smart You Shouldn’t Eat Them?

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Christoph Niemann

I’m an omnivore, but are there animals that are just too intelligent to eat?

During high school, I went to visit a friend in Louisiana. Because I was a Northerner who’d never been to the South, I was given a lot of exotically Southern stuff to eat, like alligator and rattlesnake. Then came the big Louisianan feast: heaps of spicy crayfish, which we savagely twisted the heads off of then washed down with gallons and gallons of Dr Pepper.

When I got up to go pee, one of the men at the table told me to be sure to wash my hands first. He said it with a tinge of darkness, a whiff of trauma. He explained that it was unwise for a man to go from handling spicy crayfish to handling his penis. He’d been careless once and paid the price. So I washed my hands. But I still remember how worried I was, unzipping, and how hesitantly I moved my hand down, like a kid playing Operation, dreading that horrible bzzz. I’d absorbed the trauma vicariously, but my anxiety was real.

I thought of this when I read that researchers at the University of Bordeaux in France detected a similar kind of intelligently learned anxiety in crayfish. (After suffering a trauma, the crayfish were reluctant to venture into brightly lit, risky areas.) The scientists also found they could alleviate that anxiety by giving the crayfish a Valium-style drug. And while the scientists were careful not to embellish these findings with any anthropomorphic presumptions, I think we all sense the underlying epiphany here: Crayfish are a little more like us than we expected.

These days, it seems, everybody wants to know how smart their meat is. There are all kinds of startling farm-­animal-cognition studies. We know that cows enjoy solving problems and have been known to jump into the air excitedly when they finally crack a tough one. Chickens are exceptionally good at delaying gratification, understand small numbers and basic physics, and can adroitly manage the thermostat of their coop. Sheep can remember and recognize as many as 50 human faces without making a mistake. Pigs excel at videogames played with special pig joysticks. And even opossums—yes, some people eat them—turn out to be excellent maze runners. One study ranked opossums’ “probability learning” skills second only to humans’ and higher than dogs’. Opossums! Those things that do very little and look dead most of the time!

The upshot, I’d argue, is that all animals are likely too intelligent to eat. Whether you go on eating them, with that knowledge, is up to you. You probably will. I do—proof that intelligence may be massively overrated.

Should I worry that my kid can’t spell? Does spelling matter anymore?

Did you hear about Thomas Hurley III? He was on Jeopardy! last year as an eighth grader—a likable kid from Connecticut with Peter Brady bangs and a blue dress shirt buttoned up to the jugular. He lost. And he lost, in part, because in Final Jeopardy, he wrote “Emanciptation Proclamation” instead of “Emancipation Proclamation.”

Does spelling matter anymore? Honestly, I don’t think so. I mean, initially, even schoolmarmy Alex Trebek read right over Hurley’s mistake. As a defiant Hurley told his local newspaper, “It was just a spelling error.”

Then again, spelling isn’t just about communicating. The culture still views it as a sign of intelligence, diligence, and sophistication. Bad, lackadaisical spellers are not looked at kindly. And neither was Hurley’s contention that he’d been “cheated.” (“Learn how to accept defeat, kid, or you will be disappointed for the rest of your life,” one Facebook comment read.) Clearly, autocorrect and other technologies have started a slow sea change, and maybe one day the persnickety spelling police among us will all have died out and we’ll be free to spel thingz howeEVA weeeeeeeeeee wonte. But, until that day, allowing your kids to blow off spelling may empower them to go against a societal norm without considering the day-to-day discomfort and judgment it could bring: the consequences for them but also for you, their parent.

“He was a little stunned by it,” Hurley’s mom said after the defeat. “He felt embarrassed. It was hard to watch.”

Should I give myself a weekend phone time-out? What if I miss important work?

Oh, come on.

What kind of job do you have? What kind of boss do you have? How tolerant? How demanding? One possibility is that you’re a senior adviser to the secretary of state, and your inability to be reached during a flare-up by a North African paramilitary group—because you’re lying in a park with a kale-and-bee-pollen smoothie and that copy of The Goldfinch you’ve been meaning to get to—leads to a severe diplomatic misstep and a weeks-long umbrage carnival on Fox News that can only be quelled by the semi-ritualistic firing and public shaming of the bureaucrat responsible: i.e., you. Another is that you’re a beverage distribution middle­man, and your boss—who happens to be triple-checking stuff at the office on a Saturday night because he’s going through a divorce and doesn’t know what to do with himself—discovers a niggling glitch in your paperwork that may have sent an extra case of Fresca to Denver, but because your phone’s off he calls Greta, and after a couple minutes of digging she assures him that all the Frescas are, in fact, where they need to be.

See the difference? You’ve given me absolutely no information—just dashed off your question as quickly as possible without a second of reflection. And this suggests that you’re whizzing recklessly through life and, still accelerating, throttled by permanent urgency. You need a break. Your soul needs a break. I have no idea what the consequences might be—how could I?—but I think you should switch off that phone.
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magazine-22.11

Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 02.24.17.
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Time of Publication: 11:00 am.
۱۱:۰۰ am

Should You Bank Your Own Blood? Actually, Yeah

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Christoph Niemann

I read that mice injected with blood from younger mice improve on cognitive tests. Should I bank my blood?

So yeah, I went and read about this too. I read that for years scientists have been taking an old mouse and a young mouse, putting them next to each other, and stitching their circulatory systems together, just like jump-starting a car. Then they let the blood of one mouse circulate through the other—a process called parabiosis. And introducing the young mouse’s blood—or even just introducing one particular protein found in the blood, called GDF11—to an old mouse does all sorts of wonderful stuff: It allows the old mouse to run longer on a treadmill. It changes the old mouse’s brain in ways that suggests its memory has been improved. I read that it even rejuvenates a crusty old-mouse heart. Like, voilà! The heart isn’t crusty anymore.

I also read that a Harvard scientist named Amy Wagers was “already working to commercialize” GDF11, which is found in human blood too. And this was the eye-opener for me: Even as scientists are always cautioning the media that it’s way to soon to speculate about their studies’ implications, one of these scientists—the one named Wagers, aptly—was already placing her bet.

Good for her, I say. I’m all for capitalism! But I’m also all for hematological self-determination. (Or, say, blood freedom.) I’d hate, one day, to have to pay some multinational corporation for a synthetic knockoff of my own younger self’s blood—the very stuff that was pumping through my body for decades without costing me a damn cent. What a dystopia that would be! There’d be kids on the corner with clipboards, asking for donations so Americans for Hematological Self-Determination could sue these corporations. There’d be Blood Freedom teach-ins and Blood Freedom protest songs—which would be hard because “Blood Freedom” really doesn’t rhyme with much.

So my answer is yes, absolutely. Stockpile your blood now, as much as can be squirreled away at the proper temperature. Just in case. Think of it as a tiny hedge against the Wagers of the future.

I get a lot of swag from startups—messenger bags, fleeces, hats, T-shirts—and my girlfriend makes fun of me for wearing it. Which is the douchiest to wear? Like, is a fleece cooler than a hat?

Look, I don’t care what you wear, but I do think that a startup fleece is definitely not cooler than a startup hat, because a startup fleece puts the name and logo of the startup in closer proximity to your heart than a startup hat would. My instinct is, keep this stuff away from your heart. Far away. The closer to your heart, the douchier.
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magazine-22.10

Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 02.23.17.
۰۲.۲۳.۱۷
Time of Publication: 11:00 am.
۱۱:۰۰ am

My Best Friend Dropped Our Snapchat Streak. Should I Be Mad?

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Christoph Niemann

My best friend dropped our Snapchat streak, and I’m hurt. What should I do?

Oof. I know how it feels. Streaks are magic; streaks are wild. There you are, you and your bestie, slinging those pictures and videos back and forth, getting that sacred pendulum of digital adorableness and hilarity moving between you, and you start to feel momentum, don’t you? A rhythmic bond—a fellowship, a closeness—taking hold. You’re in it together! And, better still, that little flaming number keeps ticking up, higher and higher. You’re watching your progress, reciprocally micro­dosing the endorphins. Then suddenly, all that excitement stops. You send a snap, and no snap comes back. It’s a gut punch. It’s over. You’re dropped.

Like I said: Oof. I empathize. And yet I can’t claim to understand the hurt of being dropped nearly as well as Maica Folch, who has been literally dropped and literally hurt from the dropping.

Folch is an aerialist in San Francisco who spent much of her adult life working as a trapeze artist. She started when she was just a teenager. Has Folch ever been dropped? Yes. Yes, she has. And, somewhere beneath the acute pain of impact, did she also feel something akin to the abandonment and resentment you’re dealing with? No, she did not.

It’s 1987, Barcelona. Dress rehearsal, the day before a big aerial dance performance. Folch has been hoisted 80 feet off the ground in a meticulously engineered elastic harness. And yet not so meticulously, because there’s been a miscalculation with the rigging and, before Folch can comprehend what’s happening, she sees the floor racing toward her.

She is falling, most likely to her death. And it’s just like everyone says: “I saw the movie of my life,” she tells me. She hears her gasping colleagues calling out as she speeds down at them. What happens next is unexpected, and yet it happens so naturally. “I was so peaceful,” Folch says. “And I fell down like a feather.”

She hits the ground. She bounces. Bounces! Remember, she’s basically tied to an enormous rubber band, and this serene feather of a woman bounces so high that she’s able to grab a rope up there and steady herself. “If I had freaked out and come down with an intense energy,” Folch says—if she’d stiffened and steeled herself—her body would have shattered. Instead she was bruised, like a fallen apple, but “didn’t break a bone.”

And here’s the most helpful part of the story: It never occurred to Folch, after being dropped, to feel jilted or angry. “When something goes wrong,” she says, “there is no one to blame.” It’s a kind of aerialist credo, really—put loyalty and trust first. You say to each other, “I love what I do, I love doing it with you, and if I start doing it with you, it’s because I trust you,” she explains.

“We don’t live in a perfect world,” Folch says. Carabiners fail. People fail. Friends don’t always return your snap. And it’s probably not because they don’t love you but likely just because none of us, zipping around on our phones and in real life simultaneously, swinging like trapeze artists between these two platforms of frenetic distraction, can be expected to do it all perfectly or to recognize the many distant and private emotional burdens our little snaps might bear. We will let each other down. It’s just a fact. But we all deserve some slack, some good faith—especially from our best friends.

The secret to a thriving trapeze partnership, Folch says, is not necessarily forgiveness but refusing to think of the inevitable disappointments of life as requiring forgiveness in the first place. “You create unconditional relationships. There is pain. There is guilt. But you don’t disappear from the picture.”

And so my answer is: Move on. You’re fine. Learn to love more. Learn from Folch, who knew, deep down, how to handle being dropped and how to bounce back too.
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magazine-25.02

Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 10.28.16.
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Time of Publication: 7:00 am.
۷:۰۰ am

I’m House-Sitting for Friends—Can I Turn Their Nest Cam Off?

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Christoph Niemann

I pictured this Nest Cam looming over you—pictured its one dark eye, unblinking—and I immediately thought of that nasty old Cyclops who terrorizes Odysseus and his men in The Odyssey. What was his name? What was the story, exactly? I figured I better reread that bit.

In a nutshell, Odysseus and his men are returning from a long, atrocious war. Landing for a stopover on the island of the Cyclopes, Odysseus confesses he’s at a loss to understand this mountaintop-dwelling race of one-eyed savages: They don’t fear the gods! They have no laws! They are just too alien to be intelligible; Odysseus sees them only as “brutes,” beneath his regard. So he leads his men into a cave—the home of one particular Cyclops who isn’t home—and ransacks it. They build a fire and help themselves to all his many cheeses.

Well, the Cyclops—his name is Polyphemus—is pretty ticked off when he returns (the original “Who moved my cheese?”). And Odysseus suddenly turns diffident and cloying: “We’re at your knees in hopes of a warm welcome,” he tells the Cyclops. But does he apologize for what essentially amounts to home invasion? No, he does not. Instead, he demands a gift! That’s right, Odysseus asks the giant for a “guest-gift,” the giving of which, he explains, is a mandatory and sacred custom between guests and their hosts, as dictated by his Greek gods.

Let’s pause the narrative right there. I was sure the story had something instructive to say about what happens when the expectations of a guest and the expectations of his host don’t match up. Because your problem seems to be that you expect privacy, while your hosts expect to continue protecting their home with the latest Wi-Fi–enabled surveillance tools. They’d like to keep their minds at ease; you’d like to keep their eyes off your privates. And I felt obligated to defend their interests—privilege them—and conclude that the host-guest power dynamic is tilted toward the host and that, like it or not (and in your case I certainly wouldn’t like it either), being a guest means accepting a degree of powerlessness. Keeping the camera running is disrespectful to you, and creepy, but maybe that’s just how it’s got to be.

But then, back in The Odyssey, things escalated. Polyphemus bashes two of the men on the ground of his cave until “their brains gushed out all over,” then rips off their limbs and eats them. So Odysseus sharpens a stake, heats it in a fire, and stabs it through the Cyclops’ single peeper. It’s an ugly story, in other words. And its ugliness snapped me back to reality. Because you are not some pea-sized Odysseus trapped in a terrible colossus’s cave. You are a human being staying in another human being’s house, and part of what makes us human is our willingness to engage in empathic back-and-forths to reconcile conflicting expectations. We compro­mise. We try to act decently toward each other.

And suddenly I pictured you, alone in another person’s cavernous house, with that ominous, unyielding eyeball trained on you 24/7, and I imagined how vulnerable and exposed you must feel—how stripped of self-respect—and also how resentful. Because why else would the first solution that occurred to you be, essentially, to blind the camera? No, you don’t have a right to do so. But couldn’t you take a more obvious, less defiant tack? Couldn’t you just respectfully ask your host to deactivate the camera? Or to program it around your daily schedule, so it only flicks on when you leave?

I really don’t think it will be a hard conversation to have; part of me assumes it never occurred to the homeowners how uncomfortable leaving that camera on would make you feel. But I get it: Sometimes we stew for so long that we get lost overthinking these things. Maybe what we learn from Homer, ultimately, is that not every problem is epic.
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magazine-24.10

Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 09.25.16.
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Time of Publication: 6:40 am.
۶:۴۰ am

How to Deal With a Cat That Only Drinks From a Running Tap

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christoph Niemann
My cat will only drink from a running tap—not even a cat fountain. But I live in a drought-stricken state. Help?

You’re familiar with the Misfits, I assume. They are iconic, the so-called horror-punk band that played hard and demonically fast while singer Glenn Danzig—a huge, dark creature from New Jersey with a forbidding curtain of long black hair—screamed. Danzig’s songs had titles like “Skulls” and “Die, Die My Darling” and, of course, “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?” That last one could, arguably, be read as a bloodthirsty anthem written in solidarity with America’s imprisoned house cats because, as the world would eventually discover, Danzig is a cat fancier.

A few years ago, pockets of the Internet had a good laugh at Danzig’s expense when a photograph surfaced of him walking out of a grocery store carrying a tub of Fresh Step kitty litter. (If you don’t understand why this was funny, one incredibly left-brained commenter on the site Metalsucks.net provided this analysis: “It is funny because it is something of an ironic satire to see someone who has widely been written about as an offbeat satanist buying kitty litter.”) Danzig himself had another take: “Why do people even care?” he shot back. “Why are they wasting their lives on this?” He had a point. People laughed at him for not being punk enough; he outpunked them all by not caring.

“Glenn Danzig is my spirit animal,” Daniel Quagliozzi told me recently. Quagliozzi is the proprietor of Go, Cat, Go!, a feline behavioral consultancy in San Francisco; he comes to your house and troubleshoots your cat problems. DQ, as he’s known, also grew up in New Jersey and spent his formative years deep in the punk scene, whipping his then-­mohawked head around to the Misfits. “They don’t want to be told what to do. They don’t want your hands on them or their lifestyle,” DQ explains—and this, he adds, is precisely what he appreciates about cats as well.

“I relate to them. I relate to their F U attitude toward society. They make you wonder, ‘Why the hell did I invite them in the house in the first place?’” In fact, DQ has regularly seen owners of defiant felines reduced to “wearing shrouds of cardboard to protect themselves from their swatting cats, or carrying water pistols or air horns to blast their cats away.” One guy resigned himself to keeping the litter box on his couch, because that’s where the cat insisted on pissing and crapping. All too often, DQ says, people are “just not ready for the hostile takeover.”

When I asked DQ about your problem, he let out a long sigh and said, “The running water thing is so … God.” There are countless reasons why a cat would demand a running faucet. “Maybe the water in the bowl is stale or not the right temperature, or the bowl might be too small and it’s creating whisker stress.” (Yes, whisker stress: Google it.) Maybe the cat feels more secure on the counter. “Or it could be boredom.” Maybe your cat leads such a dreary life that trickling water qualifies as fun.

My advice? Hire DQ. Fly him in if you have to; frankly, the guy’s aptitude with cats blew me away. Otherwise, he suggested trying to “mimic what’s happening in the same location.” Start by putting a recirculating fountain next to the sink; often, DQ says, we overlook the importance of location when assessing cat problems. (Maybe, for example, your cat just wants its water separate from its food, or up off the ground.)

But most of all: Steel yourself for confrontation—for a kind of protracted, brutal brinkmanship. Your cat isn’t likely to go on strike and die of thirst, DQ says, but any change you make will likely leave the animal “anxious and unsettled.” And that is “definitely going to be harder on the guardian than it is on the cat.” That is, the cat will try to own you—belittle you. Find your inner Danzig and flip the script.
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magazine-24.08

Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 05.24.16.
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Time of Publication: 9:00 am.
۹:۰۰ am

Dear Mr. Know-It-All: Someone Is Hate-Retweeting Me. What Should I Do?

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I think someone is hate-retweeting me. She has 25K followers! Should I call her out?

Easy. Couldn’t be easier. Hate-favoriting and hate-retweeting is childish behavior. So if you want to be bold, by all means call her out. And if you want to be less bold but perhaps more effective, just block her: Game over.

And yet, can I be honest? This may be the most subtly perplexing question I’ve ever had to pretend to be a know-it-all about. Because if I push just a bit on your premise, it all goes soft. I can see ancillary dilemmas, qualifications, and niggling unknowns pile up until the kind of clear, objective truth I’m required to find gets hopelessly boxed in. There’s a lot here to pick apart. Let’s start with the corrosive, discombobulating nature of spite.

Ever heard of the Spite Fence? Go back to 1876. San Francisco’s Big Four—the four main bazillionaire railroad barons—all decided to build mansions on a scenic, empty hilltop: Nob Hill. At least, it was mostly empty. Bounded within the large property purchased by one of these magnates, Charles Crocker, was a little house on a small, separate parcel owned by an undertaker named Nicholas Yung. Crocker wanted Yung gone; Yung wouldn’t sell. Crocker, bewildered that his money hadn’t made this inconvenience go away, kept making offers. Yung kept declining. So Crocker—overcome with spite—started a flame war. Or a wall war.

Crocker built his mansion. Then he built a 30-foot-high wall on his land that effectively surrounded Yung’s property. It shut out the light. It shut Yung in. It was ridiculous looking, and people came from all over to gawk at it. There was a kind of class war brewing in the city at the time, and one activist pamphlet singled out Crocker’s fence as a “very obnoxious” symbol of “the domineering spirit” of the wealthy. The San Francisco Chronicle called the Spite Fence an “inartistic monument of resentment” and a “memorial of malignity and malevolence.” Yet Yung—the simple undertaker, just wanting to live his life, in his house—didn’t sell. The undertaker was himself essentially buried, though still aboveground. But he just took it, took the high road, and let that towering manifestation of Crocker’s out-of-control id speak for itself. Yung never even retaliated, though he thought about it. His wife said, “There are some things to which people like ourselves do not care to stoop.”

You must feel like Nicholas Yung: tweeting through your life in a pure, happy-go-lucky way, only to see a wall of spite building up in this other person’s timeline, one hateful retweet at a time, to rebuke you. And like I said at the outset: How nasty that is; how immature. But why do you think these likes and retweets are hate-likes and hate-retweets, as opposed to supportive likes and supportive retweets? What would lead you to this conclusion? I can’t help but wonder if there’s something you’re not telling me—if you yourself worry there’s an arrogant, airheaded, obnoxious, or self-congratulatory tone to what you’re tweeting, the sort of attitude that typically elicits that kind of resentment online. Are you, for example, relentlessly issuing tidbits like “So lucky my baby sleeps for 12 hours each night!!!!!! Almost enough time for tantric sex with my amazing partner!” or “Just had lunch with Bon Jovi! #blessed”?

I’m not saying you are. I’m just wondering. Honestly. I don’t want to blame the victim. My point is, the victim of one kind of obnoxiousness can be a perpetrator of another. You ought to give that a hard think and figure out which side of this Spite Fence you’re actually standing on, before you poke your head over and start shouting.
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advicemagazine-24.05Mr. Know-It-Alltwitter

Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 04.07.16.
۰۴.۰۷.۱۶
Time of Publication: 11:00 am.
۱۱:۰۰ am

Dear Mr. Know-It-All: Do I Really Have to Use a Wedding’s Instagram Hashtag?

ap_kia_2403 Christoph Niemann

Two stories. Try to hold them together in your mind.

The first involves a man named Muki Bácsi, at a Hungarian wedding in 1879. Muki was a drunk, apparently, but a beloved and awe-inspiring one. He was the region’s “champion drinkist,” according to the London Telegraph. And so, arriving at the wedding banquet, Muki found a tremendous 3-pint glass at his place and was told that, as the party proceeded through toast after toast, he was expected, each time, to suck this hulking receptacle dry, then fill it up again.

Muki sighed. “Lads, I am about to die,” he began. He was certain he was on the verge of a stroke, and the last thing he wanted was to flood his ailing innards with wine. And yet, Muki also knew he was at a gosh darn wedding and that weddings are specially charged, sacred days that temporarily reorganize the universe entirely around love and joyousness and mirth. Muki considered this, considered his glass, and pushed a great gust of air out of his weathered lungs. His lips formed that air into words: “So be it! A man can die but once!” And then Muki started to drink and drink. He drank until 2 in the morning. Then Muki asked to be carried to a bed, groaned once, and died. He was, the paper reported, “the merriest wedding guest of them all.”

The second story is shorter: In 1912, Elizabeth Lang shot a woman dead in Indiana. The case was open-and-shut, according to The New York Times. Elizabeth offered a clear confession. “She said I was ugly. She said I was old. I killed her for that, and I am not a bit sorry for it,” she told police. If it sounds extreme, it is—I’m not going to excuse it. And yet, monitor the slight shift in your own understanding and feelings when I reveal that this incident occurred at Elizabeth’s wedding.

It’s possible these stories aren’t entirely true—that they are, instead, the truth extruded through the melodramatic, yellowish journalistic conventions of their time. But even as fables, they offer some relevant lessons.

From Muki, we learn that the ideal wedding guest is submissive. Making the day a success requires that, to some degree, everyone subsume their needs and join with a larger collective spirit of conviviality. We guests arrive when we’re told to. We wear what we’re told to. If Abba comes on, we dance to Abba—even subpar Abba, like “Fernando.” We do these things because we care; it’s the Muki in us.

And from Elizabeth, we learn never to piss off the bride and groom. Even as all of us guests work to put our individual feelings aside for the day, we must understand that the bride and groom’s desires can become grotesquely elephantine and should be allowed to carry extra weight.

These are extreme examples, of course. But you are not being asked to festively drink yourself to death. You are being asked to use a hashtag on Instagram. And if you didn’t use the hashtag, and the bride murdered you for it, that would be nuts. So no, I can’t claim you are “required” to use the hashtag. But whatever your objections, using it seems like such a trivial sacrifice. The couple is merely asking for help gathering your photos into a larger virtual collection, easily viewed by them, their guests, and their would-have-been guests (excluded by head count costs, travel expenses, family feuds, and so on).

Hashtags can be dumb. I get it, I do. But this hashtag genuinely feels like a force for good. Like the wedding itself, it’s a mechanism for bringing people together. Why stand in its way?
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Instagrammagazine-24.03

Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 02.10.16.
۰۲.۱۰.۱۶
Time of Publication: 4:35 pm.
۴:۳۵ pm

Dear Mr. Know-It-All: Do I Really Have to Let People Know About My Digital Holiday?

kia_digitalfree
Christoph Niemann
I’ve declared evenings and weekends a digital holiday. Should I set up an email autoreply to let people know?

Compassion. Sensitivity. Openness. Tolerance. I’d like to think that these are the core values of the Mr. Know-It-All column—the imperturbable foundations on which, every month, I try to build this tiny chapel of words. I’m not going to lie: This job is intimidating! Your questions come ricocheting into my inbox from WIRED HQ, sweeping toward me like a flurry of screeching bats from the mouth of a dark cave. And it’s up to me—only me—to lasso one of those unruly mammal-birds and tame it, transmute it into something more approachable, a gentle, sweetly singing canary whose song is Truth. Admittedly, sometimes it goes better than others. (Like that weird bat-and-canary bit—that one kind of got away from me.) But my feeling is, if I approach your questions with an open heart—if I try to locate, within that cryptic line or two you’ve submitted, some glint of shared humanity and try to understand you—then I cannot fail.

But I don’t understand you. I just don’t. I read your question on Friday evening, after a hectic week. I typically like to get an early jump on knowing-it-all, but I figured—just this once—I could mull over your question all weekend and bang out a thoughtful answer just before it was due. Then I thought to myself: “Why wouldn’t you set up an email autoreply?” I assumed I was missing something.

I fell asleep wondering what it might be—wondering about you. I slept very well. On Saturday I woke up to discover my car was dead in the driveway. I jump-started it. Then my sister-in-law visited. I made some soup. Sunday: took my kids on a hike, learned to use a chain saw, caught a few minutes of The Bourne Ultimatum, cooked a so-so chicken dish.

Now it’s Monday morning. The sun is rising; the column is due. I still don’t understand you. Do you have a justifiable reason to not set up an autoreply? I can’t imagine one. (How much of an inconvenience can it be? It’s automated!) I also wondered if, in a society where we all seem slavishly and often necessarily tied to our devices—where so many of us feel perpetually on call—you worry that your obstinate rejection of email every weekend will come off, to the rest of us, as a preposterous, selfish luxury. Does an automated email responder rub your privilege in our faces?

Yes, maybe a little. But guess what else it does: IT TELLS US YOU’RE NOT THERE. Imagine if I’d reached out to you for clarification on your question on Friday. Now imagine me waiting for a reply, consulting my phone as I continued to turn your question over in my mind. Imagine how that would have colored my weekend—impinged, just a bit, on my enjoyment of my family, my soup, my chainsawing, my Jason Bourne, my chicken. And, as you depleted my various joys with your unresponsiveness all weekend long, imagine how I might have come to resent you for it.

But I don’t resent you. Because, although you say you’ve declared your weekends a digital holiday, you’ve so far only declared it to me. And thanks for that. It saved me some hassle. Me and you are totally cool.
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magazine-24.02

Author: Jon Mooallem. Jon Mooallem Culture Date of Publication: 02.09.16.
۰۲.۰۹.۱۶
Time of Publication: 4:40 pm.
۴:۴۰ pm

Dear Mr. Know-It-All: Should You Delete Someone’s Facebook Account After They Die?

kia_facebook
Christoph Niemann
How long should you wait before shutting down someone’s Facebook account after they die?

“This is for all you lovers out there.” That’s how it begins—one of the most existentially horrifying moments in American cinema.

I’m talking about the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance in Back to the Future, in which we see a temporally displaced Marty McFly onstage, sitting in with the band on “Earth Angel” with a guitar, while his teenage parents, George and Lorraine, move toward their first kiss.

This is it: the precise, excruciatingly brief moment in which the cosmos will offer up the possibility for them to fall in love—a doorway they can step through or not step through. But if they do, it’s a straight shot from here through the sinews of the spacetime continuum to marriage, and to Marty’s birth, and to all the circumstances of life that Marty had always mistaken for the one and only, inviolable reality. But he’s wising up now. While traveling through time, he’s learning that his life, like all of our lives, is only an exquisite and provisional fluke—a haphazard product of so many collisions and coincidences that were never guaranteed. Up on the stage, he’s about to be confronted with this truth in a deep and terrible way.

You know the scene, right? It turns on an obnoxious redhead who tells George to “scram,” then cuts in between him and Lorraine and sweeps her away. Slowly, a warped and nightmarish score rises over “Earth Angel.” Marty becomes disoriented, diminished. His strength—his selfhood—is draining out of him as, out on the dance floor, that insufferable ginger cackles and whips Lorraine around like a rag doll. He is dragging Lorraine farther and farther from George—and dragging our universe (or maybe all of this is proof of a multiverse?) farther from its capacity to produce Marty’s life, diverting the sacred headwaters of his personal history.

Marty’s compromised hands batter his guitar, making a discordant mess of “Earth Angel.” He raises one hand and watches it turn … translucent! His face is stupefied, powerless. Somehow Michael J. Fox—that cocky scion of 1980s precociousness—pulls it off: this look of violated innocence and panic, of a carefree boy suddenly thrown down and dying on the battlefield of time.

What is happening to Marty? Doc Brown has already explained the process: Marty is being “erased from existence.” Stop and think about those words for a second. They are horrifying. (A thrash metal band from Belfast called Scimitar even wrote an abrasive, ear-­pummeling song called “Erased from Existence,” inspired by this scene. It’s very hard to listen to.) But the worst part isn’t even that Marty himself is being erased. The true, piercing horror comes when he looks at the photograph slipped through the strings of his guitar: the one of his brother and sister and him standing against a low rock wall. Earlier in the film we’ve seen the images of his two siblings vanish from that photo, and now Marty’s image is fading too. This is what it means to be erased from existence. And this is what frightens me most: not just that Marty is vanishing but that all evidence of his life will vanish. No one will know who he was, because—here’s the thing—he wasn’t.

You ask how long you should wait before shutting down the Facebook page of a loved one who’s died. I ask why you’d ever want to delete it. Consider the ripple effects—the many ways their absence would be felt across that platform, on so many other ­people’s pages and their community’s collective, digital memory. Everything the deceased had said, not just on their own page but on others, would be gone. And so would everything people had said to them. They’d be instantaneously untagged from hundreds or even thousands of other people’s photos, exiled into some anonymous interloper status: a nameless human void.
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