Another Week Ends

Click here for the accompanying episode of The Mockingcast, featuring JR Rozko, Aaron Zimmerman and […]

Ethan Richardson / 2.12.16

Click here for the accompanying episode of The Mockingcast, featuring JR Rozko, Aaron Zimmerman and EKR.

The new OK GO video is amazing! Click on the image to watch.

The new OK GO video is amazing! Click on the image to watch.

Sherry Turkle, at it again, people. In The New York Review of Books, Jacob Weisberg samples a troop of tech-related books released this year, one of which is Sherry Turkle’s new one, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. Turkle, who we’ve talked about quite a bit on Mockingbird, is an MIT clinician and an ethnographer, and has focused her expertise in the last two books on the rise of technological dependence, and its implications on human relationships and identity. (For the record, two other books Weisburg cites sound really good, too: Reading the Comments by Joseph Reagle Jr. and Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal and Ryan Hoover). Turkle rose to fame after her TED Talks based on her first book, Alone Together.

Here, Weisburg notes that Turkle’s focus is more philosophical than it is practical. In Reclaiming Conversation, she discusses the impact it is having on today’s children, on their development of relationships, and on the development of important relational values like empathy, which she cites as having had a 40% decline in the past 20 years among college students. This happens, for Turkle, because so much of our relationships are construed rather than confronted.

Speaking to someone who isn’t fully present is irritating, but it’s increasingly the norm. Turkle has already noticed considerable evolution in “friendship technologies.” At first, she saw kids investing effort into enhancing their profiles on Facebook. More recently, they’ve 71LAEf3UYeLcome to prefer Snapchat, known for its messages that vanish after being viewed, and Instagram, where users engage with one another around a stream of shared photos, usually taken by phone. Both of these platforms combine asynchronicity with ephemerality, allowing you to compose your self-presentation, while looking more causal and spontaneous than on a Facebook profile. It’s not the indelible record that Snapchat’s teenage users fear. It’s the sin of premeditated curating—looking like you’re trying too hard.

Like her previous book, Turkle goes to on-the-ground case studies to illustrate the point. But it’s not really necessary—the stories she relays are stories we know in our own lives. The conflict that’s best dealt via Gchat, the difficult awkwardness that’s quickly buffered by emoji or GIF or distracting link, the curated spontaneity of a SnapChat. Turkle puts our own social lives under the microscope, and investigates some deeper beliefs we don’t know we’re believing. Like this one, of Adam:

Turkle devotes several pages to the story of Adam, a thirty-six-year-old architect who can’t get over the end of a long-term relationship. Adam feels he was able to be his “better self” with his girlfriend Tessa, the more open and less defensive man that she needed him to be. Communicating with her through electronic messaging rather than the phone gave him a chance to “pause and get it right” in their exchanges. He remains obsessed with the digital archive of the romance, dozens of texts a day sent over a period of three years:

“He pulls up a text he sent Tessa after a fight. Adam says that after this quarrel he was frightened, afraid of what would happen next. But in his text he lessened the tension by sending a photo of his feet, beneath which he wrote, “Try to control your sexual passion in seeing me in Crocs and socks.” In person, Adam says that his anxiety would have led him to try to corner Tessa into forgiving him. His panic would have made things worse. Online, he used humor to signal confidence in their enduring connection. So what the text communicated is not the “real” Adam; it’s the Adam he wants to be.”

2) Well, when I heard the news this week about an eighth book in the Harry Potter series, there were mixed feelings. While it certainly is exciting that the Potter saga is continuing in some form (and The Cursed Child is such an awesome title!), it is also unsurprising that Rowling couldn’t let the perfect seven lie. I don’t know if any of us could. I am glad, though, that despite its billing as the “eighth book,” it is a significantly different animal from all the others that have come before it. Most obviously, The Cursed Child is a play, and its book will appear in script form. This alone sets it apart, and I for one am thankful. That being said, the story itself sounds promising. The weight of expectation, indeed:


It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

3) The reviews of Hail, Caesar! have been amazing, and deservedly so. More on that next week, but Alissa Wilkinson, the film editor over at CT, is the only review I’ve seen that points out its central architecture as, yes, a Passion Play. If you haven’t heard much about the Coen Brothers new film, it is a movie within a movie—a Hollywood pastiche of the Gospels and a Hollywood pastiche of the Hollywood pastiche—a story that takes its main character, film executive Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) to a cross of his own. Not much of a spoiler here, but a light one:

Near its end, we catch him in Gethsemane echoes deep in prayer, rosary in hand, as he contemplates what to do—and in a neat trick made possible by the existence of an actual set for a crucifixion scene being shot on the studio lot, he even approaches three crosses on Calvary.

The Coens are too meticulous to not have intended all that. What’s so fun about Hail, Caesar! is that it lets all the characters (played by your actual favorite movie stars) and sets and images from films made both during and about its time, from comedies to noirs to political dramas, come together in a grand mash-up that is then structured like one of the most enduringly popular genres: the biblical epic, the “Greatest Story Ever Told,” the archetypal tale of suffering and redemption.

4) Another incredible one from Humans of New York:


5) For Fat Tuesday/Ash Wednesday, Nadia Bolz-Weber posted an excerpt from her new book, the entirety of which you can read here on Patheos. In it she tells the story of Billy, who committed suicide and whose family requested Nadia to do the service, despite the fact that none of them were very inclined towards Christianity. The memorial was done at Satchel’s, a local restaurant where Billy worked. She explains the religious cynicism that she felt in the room, and the fact that, a lot of times, she is cynical about religion, too. Even as a pastor.

…I felt more at home in that room than I had a few days earlier at a Presbyterian church in Indiana, and suddenly I realized that what I had initially resisted (doing a funeral for folks who weren’t my parishioners on one of my three days off that month) was actually what I desperately needed in order to be faithful to my call. These mourners still felt to me like part of my parish. And I wanted more than anything to preach about Jesus. Not in a “here’s my chance to get you to believe the right things” type of way, but more in a “I get how distasteful so much of this Christianity stuff can be, but it’s also just the most real and beautiful thing I have ever heard” type of way. The Jesus story connects with Billy’s because it, too, is a story of love and suffering.

I told them that when I heard Billy was bright, an artist and musician, and when I heard that he loved his family and loved people through difficulty in relationships, and when I heard that he struggled with heroin and booze addictions and an unhelpful brain chemistry, and when I heard that he was beautifully queer and passionate and sometimes played piano in his sister’s dresses, I knew. I knew that Billy was pretty much exactly the kind of person Jesus would hang out with.

I told them that Jesus could have hung out in the high-end religious scene of his day, but instead he scoffed at all that, choosing instead to laugh at the powerful, befriend whores, kiss sinners, and eat with all the wrong people. He spent his time with people for whom life was not easy. And there, amid those who were suffering, he was the embodiment of perfect love.

6) Next, a super interesting one which says a lot about the nature of imputation—i.e. the way God imputes on us the divinity of his Son (“Well done, good and faithful servant!”). This is the nature of “divine amnesia,” as Professor Zahl has called it, the tendency for grace to cover a multitude of sins (and annoyances).

7) This is so funny. Besides the poop-eating part, never before have I felt so much like a dog. “Who’s A Good Boy?”

I can tell from the look in your eyes and the tone of your voice that you mean to imply that I am the good boy in question. You’re offering me praise and support. And I’m wagging my tail and excitedly padding my feet as if to say, “Is it me? I hope it’s me! I’m the good boy! Yes I am!” But you should know that is a charade.

Look in my eyes. Really look into my eyes and you’ll see the truth.

I am NOT a good boy, not by any definition.

Hey, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I am a good boy. Maybe I’m totally mistaken about the nature of good and evil. So sure, call me a good doggie and I won’t argue with you. It could be that I just have a guilty conscience and need to get something off my chest. I doubt it, but I suppose it could be true. Whatever the case, I should come clean. Even though you are a human who is only, by my estimate, somewhere between eighty and one hundred and seven years old, it’s way past time for you to know the truth. You need to know.


For Valentine’s Day, I direct you to Modern Love—they have a podcast now! It’s amazing.

Jonathan Haidt interviewed over at Minding the Campus, about free speech and campus homogeny.

The New Yorker dives into the science of Cooties.