1. It’s the experience economy, in case you haven’t heard. In a previous vocation, that was the mantra by which we were expected to “pivot” our future plans. The new experience entrepreneurs have likely set up shop in your neighborhood too: we just got our first axe-throwing range to compliment our smashing-pottery-therapy studio and our two escape rooms. Intrepid NYT writer Amanda Hess took the summer to profile the cutting-edge experiential pop-ups that have taken culture centers by storm. After visiting the likes of San Francisco’s vaunted Museum of Ice Cream and New York’s Rosé Museum—institutions that are one part art installation, one part fun-house, two parts gift shop, and three parts Instagram fodder—Hess finds herself discovering an “existential void.”

By classifying these places as experiences, their creators seem to imply that something happens there. But what? Most human experiences don’t have to announce themselves as such. They just do what they do. A film tells a story. A museum facilitates meaning between the viewer and a work of art. Even a basic carnival ride produces pleasing physical sensations…

At 29Rooms, a pop-up from the women’s site Refinery29, I waited outside big white tents to get into makeshift rooms like “Star Matter,” a space curated in collaboration with Nicole Richie, which features big fake rocks, little fake stars and a hanging red orb. The aesthetic recalls the line for Disneyland’s Splash Mountain, except in here, Fleetwood Mac was playing. One of the features of the Rosé Mansion is a fake gold throne that you can sit on while wearing a fake gold crown, an event akin to hanging out in the lobby of the New Jersey Medieval Times. Each of these experiences culminates in a ball pit — filled with “marshmallows” at Candytopia, “champagne bubbles” at the Rosé Mansion, and blue-colored balls at Color Factory — a feature pioneered by the McDonald’s PlayPlace.

Yet these line-adjacent experiences are pitched as somehow transformative. In a plaque outside the “Star Matter” room, the experience was teased as “a cosmic pilgrimage of love, music, and connectedness into the California night sky and back in time to the 1970s, a decade defined by progressive group thinking.” The Color Factory says it’s designed to “invite curiosity, discovery and play.” The Museum of Ice Cream’s Pint Shop is said to “inspire and empower audiences to be their most creative selves.” Mostly, we’re expected to have the time of our lives. A Candytopia employee announced: “The first rule is to be happy and always smile! Frowns make other people sad!”

I’m as interested as the next guy in sitting in a three-foot-deep pool filled with ice cream sprinkles. That’s not sarcasm; I’m actually curious as to how that would feel. But to expect that I would leave said sprinkle tub singing the theme to Dirty Dancing—that “I’ve had the time of my life and I’ve never felt this way before”—well, I have my doubts. But what I don’t doubt is that the photo would make a great Facebook profile picture. Back to Hess:

These places are often described as “Instagram Museums,” and the real experience plays out only after we post photographic evidence on social media. The internet is an increasingly visual space, and these museums, with their enormous pools of candy and gargantuan emoji props, are designed to fit the shrunken-down Instagram grid. What’s the point of anything else?…

The central disappointment of these spaces is not that they are so narcissistic, but rather that they seem to have such a low view of the people who visit them. Observing a work of art or climbing a mountain actually invites us to create meaning in our lives. But in these spaces, the idea of “interacting” with the world is made so slickly transactional that our role is hugely diminished. Stalking through the colorful hallways of New York’s “experiences,” I felt like a shell of a person. It was as if I was witnessing the total erosion of meaning itself. And when I posted a selfie from the Rosé Mansion saying as much, all of my friends liked it.

I think the implicit critique here is that the Instagrammable Museum is the museum for the projected self and not the museum for the real self. To experience the smallness and frailty that a mountain or the Sistine Chapel imposes is to recognize something true about the real self, which is actually frail and small. What could we possibly realize about ourselves as we submerge ourselves up to the neck in a pool full of sprinkles?

2. Keeping with the social media theme, Mark O’Connell reviews two new books on social media and the internet: Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now and James Bridle’s New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future, trying to answer why social media has made the world so toxic. The article spends a lot of time with Twitter (if you’d like a primer as to why we stepped way from the medium), but the Good Will Hunting anecdote is solid gold:

Last month, the writer Julius Sharpe posted the following exquisitely relatable sentiment: “Whenever someone stops tweeting, I feel like Ben Affleck going to Matt Damon’s house at the end of ‘Good Will Hunting.’ So happy for them.”

So why hasn’t Sharpe done a runner, like Matt Damon lighting out for the territory? And why, more to the point, haven’t I?…

The problem, for Lanier, is not technology, per se. The problem is the business model based on the manipulation of individual behavior. Social-media platforms know what you’re seeing, and they know how you acted in the immediate aftermath of seeing it, and they can decide what you will see next in order to further determine how you act—a feedback loop that gets progressively tighter until it becomes a binding force on an individual’s free will…

A bound will reference is certainly worth the mention, but the article’s real contribution is its deep dive into the failure of big data to shift into a predicting or controlling function. Here’s a quote from Brindle’s book:

To be alive and online in our time is to feel at once incensed and stultified by the onrush of information, helpless against the rising tide of bad news and worse opinions. Nobody understands anything: not the global economy governed by the unknowable whims of algorithms, not our increasingly volatile and fragile political systems, not the implications of the impending climate catastrophe that forms the backdrop of it all. We have created a world that defies our capacity to understand it—though not, of course, the capacity of a small number of people to profit from it. Deleting your social-media accounts might be a means of making it more bearable, and even of maintaining your sanity. But one way or another, the world being what it is, we are going to have to learn to live in it.

Class is also an important piece of the conversation, as both authors agree with the old addendum, “if you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.” Which is to say that the attraction of control, whether that’s through a carefully manicured social media profile or a helpful list of curated streams, is something that a handful of people are making big money exploiting. A beautiful mind indeed.

3. Switching gears to the pastoral, McSweeney’s gets a listing outside of the humor category this week with “How to Talk to a Cancer Patient Without Being a Complete Twit.” Most of it really does involve what the seminaries call “getting over yourself,” a focus on listening, honesty, and keeping your mouth shut about your uncle’s chemo treatments when he was 73. Here’s a sample from “Rule #4: Avoid Euphemisms”:

Do not refer to debilitating illness as a “journey.” Life is a journey. A trip to Italy is a journey. Major illness is a road washout at 55 MPH in the dark with no warning signs.

Do not, puh-leeze, especially in the person’s obituary, cite his/her “courageous battle with cancer.” A person doesn’t endure the debilitating indignities of chemo/radiation/surgery because he/she is brave. A person endures these things because the only alternative is daisy-pushing—it is actually the path of least resistance. Doctors might be doing battle with cancer, but the poor patient is simply the battlefield.

The list includes an admonition to leave religion out of it, which is half helpful, but a thoughtful Christian faith with the requisite self-emptying attached will hit most of these ticks along the way.

4. Much has been made this week on Millennial marriages and dropping divorce rates, though perhaps that’s a bit of a misnomer once all the numbers are examined. It might be more of a mixed bag. Here’s some context from The Atlantic:

Chen connects this trend to the decline of well-paying jobs for those without college degrees, which, he argues, makes it harder to form more stable relationships. Indeed, Cohen writes in his paper that marriage is “an increasingly central component of the structure of social inequality.” The state of it today is both a reflection of the opportunities unlocked by a college degree and a force that, by allowing couples to pool their incomes, itself widens economic gaps.

So, looking at married couples alone doesn’t capture the true nature of American partnerships today. “If you were to include cohabiting relationships [in addition to marriages], the breakup rates for young adults have probably not been going down,” Cherlin says. In other words: Yes, divorce rates are declining. But that’s more a reflection of who’s getting married than of the stability of any given American couple.

5. This week in humor, The New Yorker cleans up with Ayn Rand’s Fall Fashion Advice (above) and also Thoughts on My Way to Work. The latter includes gems like “If I sit all day and keep to myself, I wonder if anybody will notice that I haven’t ironed this shirt in four years.” The real winner of the week, however, is The Atlantic’s Deconstruction of the Dad Joke:

In the following century, many fathers stuck with the “emotionally distant, usually at work” fatherhood archetype, but others, especially in the years after World War II, “tried to befriend their children and take a place in the main currents of home life.” In the latter half of the century, Rotundo writes, men began spending more time alongside their children, teaching them home and yard maintenance, coaching their youth sports, and eventually taking on more feeding and care duties as more mothers joined the workforce. And it’s this more modern ideal of fatherhood, in which fathers are expected to play with their kids, keep them entertained, and bond with them emotionally, that arguably facilitates the playful, joking relationship between father and children often observed today—and, in turn, the dad joke.

Could it be that a harmless pun or a groan inducing punchline are cultural artifacts of loving fathers, signifiers of the Heavenly Father who also loves his children to death? To think that God takes pleasure in the discovery that the skeleton couldn’t cross the road because “he didn’t have the guts!” That’s a world I want to live in.

6. If you haven’t yet succumbed to the collective peer pressure of the Mockingbird staff to go watch The Good Place (at least the first season!), here’s a few lines from The AV Club‘s introduction to season three to help make the case:

The thing is, if the Good Place of The Good Place is as all-knowing and perfect as Michael and every other functionary in the universal machinery would have it be, there’s precious little room for human weakness of any kind. (Tellingly, we’ve never been told of a single person, historical or otherwise, who definitively resides in the Good Place. We know Florence Nightingale just missed the cut.) Especially since, as Michael successfully made his case to Gen, his disastrous fake Good Place experiment showed that these four people—at least when they have each other—can be better. The Good Place set itself up originally as a clever, very funny lark, with unrepentant jerk Eleanor Shellstrop destined to outsmart the goody-two-shoes and beat the system. But the show quickly spun its premise out to comedic and philosophical reaches both unexpected and unprecedented in your average network sitcom.

Strays:

• Cher covers ABBA (see above)- we eagerly await DZ’s thoughts…

• Also, new unreleased Beatles material on the way from The White Album recording sessions. “It’s double or triple Sgt. Pepper—the four walls of this studio couldn’t hold them anymore.”

A scatological scandal: here’s the one word you can use online to prove you’re a human and not an algorithm.

• I don’t know that we need another figure of speech like Tiger Mom or Helicopter Parenting to bemoan the state of child rearing in America, but one could make the case for Lawnmower Parenting.