News 01.18.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 01.18.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 01.18.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 01.18.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Among the things I have not missed since entering middle age is the sensation of being an absolute beginner. It has been decades since I’ve sat in a classroom in a gathering cloud of incomprehension (Algebra 2, tenth grade) or sincerely tried, lesson after lesson, to acquire a skill that was clearly not destined to play a large role in my life (modern dance, twelfth grade). Learning to ride a bicycle in my early thirties was an exception—a little mortifying when my husband had to run alongside the bike, as you would with a child—but ultimately rewarding. Less so was the time when a group of Japanese schoolchildren tried to teach me origami at a public event where I was the guest of honor—I’ll never forget their sombre puzzlement as my clumsy fingers mutilated yet another paper crane.

Like Tom Vanderbilt, a journalist and the author of “Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning” (Knopf), I learn new facts all the time but new skills seldom. Journalists regularly drop into unfamiliar subcultures and domains of expertise, learning enough at least to ask the right questions. The distinction he draws between his energetic stockpiling of declarative knowledge, or knowing that, and his scant attention to procedural knowledge, or knowing how, is familiar to me. The prospect of reinventing myself as, say, a late-blooming skier or ceramicist or marathon runner sparks only an idle interest, something like wondering what it might be like to live in some small town you pass on the highway.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 01.18.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 01.18.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

When the coronavirus began its long, deadly march through the United States last spring, and states mandated that businesses and schools close and people stay home to limit the spread of the virus, the ability to communicate and work via videoconferencing platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Skype was hailed as a technological blessing. In stark contrast with the purgatorial mood many people were experiencing during indefinite lockdown, newspaper articles set a celebratory tone, hailing the arrival of the Zoom cocktail hour and encouraging Americans who were now spending countless hours online to add preselected digital backgrounds depicting exotic beaches and other happy scenes to their calls.

“It humbles us a little bit to see how people are using Zoom and how they are being creative,” Colleen Rodriguez, a Zoom spokeswoman, told the Washington Post. The growth in the use of Zoom was dramatic: According to the Post, “Usage grew from 10 million daily meeting participants in December to 300 million in April, including both business and personal gatherings.”1

In the midst of a crisis, Zoom (and similar videoconferencing programs) provided an immediate, seamless way for people to continue to work and socialize while maintaining a safe physical distance from one another. Here was a simple technological response to the many complicated social problems that arose during the pandemic, a solution that seemed to address a practical challenge while also proving the legitimacy of Zoom’s slogan—“We deliver happiness.”2

But as the weeks of lockdown wore on, and virtual gatherings shifted from novelty to obligation, many Americans began to confess to feelings of dread each time a new Zoom meeting appeared on their calendars. Human nature, that irrepressible beast, emerged in stories of “Zoombombers” who used the platform to interrupt classroom lectures and business meetings, harassing others with hateful remarks. Then there were the lackadaisical workers who neglected to turn off their cameras, treating their colleagues to embarrassing displays of private behavior made inadvertently public.

Read the rest of this article at: The Hedgehog Review


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How should we read? The S-word makes it sound, like it or not, like a moral injunction—deep, passionate and enthusiastic readers we may well be, there nonetheless remains something about the way we transform marks on a page or screen into images and ideas in the mind that leaves us feeling like failures. Modish neuroscience may provide at least some of the answers: the ability to read and write—unlike speech—isn’t hard-wired into the human mind-brain, but rather, such is our neural plasticity, that we’re constantly changing in our very essence so as to refine these skills. Perhaps this is why reading always feels a little like striving—unless we’ve mastered the facile trick of reading entirely for pleasure, a subject to which I’ll return.

So, there’s always this quality of endeavor about reading—and at the same time, in cognitive terms it’s hard work. When someone reading complex passages of prose—ones, say, that attempt to convey human lives in all their manifold sensuous and intellectual complexity—is placed in a MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanner, we can see on the machine’s visual display that almost all of their brain is lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree. Not only that, but the parts of the brain employed when actually talking, walking or making love are illuminated by the very act of reading about talking, walking or making love.

Read the rest of this article at: Literary Hub

News 01.18.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 01.18.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In the beginning of 2020, Morayo Ogunbayo was aware that the vast majority of women did not look like Kendall Jenner. As a 19-year-old college student, she knew that to meet American culture’s body standard was to either hit the genetic lottery or have enough money to fake it convincingly. She knew that this ideal was rooted in sexist and Eurocentric beliefs about femininity, that most women fell far short of achieving it, and that that was perfectly normal.

Then the pandemic hit, and she began spending a lot more of her time scrolling through TikTok.

“Every person was stunningly beautiful,” she says. “It seems like everyone had an hourglass figure, and I just felt really weird about not having one.”

Ogunbayo still knows, obviously, that most people are not models. She’s well aware that the gorgeous, thin women she sees on her TikTok For You home feed are the product of highly complex algorithms that evaluate billions of tiny screen taps, which ultimately reflect the average biases and tastes of society. On some level, most teenagers know this.

They know, but it doesn’t really help. It has always sucked to compare yourself to the prettiest girl in school, but it sucks a lot more to feel like everybody else in the entire world is the prettiest girl in school.

On her Instagram Explore page, Ogunbayo says she sees mostly girls discussing their “fitness journeys,” women smiling and posing next to text about “body positivity” while they dispense weight loss advice, thin influencers contorting themselves to emphasize their stomach fat in an attempt to make their enviable bodies seem more relatable. On TikTok, she sees other college students, who also happen to be very attractive, in expensive cars and houses. “Even something that’s as innocent as Pinterest,” she says of the website mostly known for DIY ideas and hair tutorials, “my entire feed is, like, Bella Hadid. I mean, I’m 19, I’m in a pretty good place with my body image, but it’s still not great to see all the time.”

But there is another effect of our near-constant exposure to an endless carousel of beautiful faces and perfect bodies, wrought by the extraordinary cultural power of increasingly shrewd algorithms. Like the failures of a political system that allowed hundreds of thousands of Americans to die of the coronavirus and the racial justice movements that exploded in what became one of the US’s biggest protest movements in history, a reckoning is coming to what is widely, if improperly, dubbed the “body positivity” internet. Thin people, it seems, are finally beginning to hear what activists have been saying for decades: that our world is set up to be uniquely hostile to fat people at every possible turn, and that fat people are blamed for it.

The problem is that these conversations are largely taking place on social media, platforms that in the past have proven severely unequipped to host the kinds of nuanced and deeply personal discussions the subject requires. But social media has been the site of several political and cultural revolutions over the past decade. Can it do the same for people whose bodies are under the greatest scrutiny of all?

Read the rest of this article at: Vox

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News 01.18.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

At the same time the account made its mark on politics, so did it color American culture. Trump’s pithy, idiomatic speech patterns translated to Twitter in a manner that became comic shorthand in American life, whether earnestly or ironically: “Sad!,” “WITCH HUNT!,” “STOP THE COUNT!” He even added a new word to the English lexicon, a simple typo that became effective shorthand for his administration’s endemic confusion and lack of professionalism: “covfefe.”

Trump’s Twitter account didn’t do anything novel in its own right. But it exemplified, at the largest possible scale, the twisted incentives at the heart of the platform that gave it life: to generate spectacle and action without regard for truth, context, or collateral damage.

One of the most remarkable and revealing things about Trump’s dominance of the platform is the fact that the septuagenarian president is as far as one could be from a “digital native,” refusing mostly to ever even use a computer. He has no particular calculating genius about social media, just the standard set of opinions and aesthetic preferences that a particularly bigoted member of his generation might hold, combined with a helpful lack of restraint. That biliousness and shamelessness, combined with his baked-in celebrity, found their perfect outlet in Twitter, where outrage is currency.

Before he became president, Trump deployed his narcissism and bile to more petty, and sometimes downright bizarre, ends. He issued his first tweet on May 4, 2009, reminding its followers to tune into CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” for a cursory appearance from Trump, then the star of a declining reality show. It was a long road from there to Trump’s using the account to rebrand himself as a pugilistic, reactionary populist, elevating him from cable news gadfly to Republican Party gatecrasher to, eventually, leader of the free world.

In its early years, @realDonaldTrump served as mostly a promotional tool for its owner, seeking to bolster his flagging celebrity. It was also a vehicle for his quixotic and seemingly arbitrary cultural fixations. He attacked such sacred cows as Coca-Cola, calling it “garbage” despite pledging to continue drinking it; provided repeated, unsolicited relationship advice to “Twilight” teen heartthrob Robert Pattinson; and unaccountably threatened legal action over a nominally flattering musical tribute from the late rapper Mac Miller.

Read the rest of this article at: Politico

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