1. Let’s start off at Digg, another web venture focused on curating the best of the web for a specialized audience. For the unfamiliar, Digg is to Reddit as Myspace is to Facebook, it was one of the web’s earliest “vote on the stories you like” style websites. Steve Rousseau, the senior editor at this rebooted version of Digg, got back from vacation earlier this month and found logging back into the web was taking an unexpected personal toll.

My job is not a complicated one. I look at the internet every day, accruing this running knowledge of things happening online. When one reaches a certain level of prominence or complexity we at Digg cover it. You know, like Millennials hating mayo or the EPA allowing new uses of asbestos

The trouble is, in order to identify the stories that merit this kind of treatment, you need to be Logged In. I suppose to truly provide an account of “What The Internet Is Talking About,” you need to always be listening.

When I came back from vacation, I had nothing. The first thing that I read that morning was about a congressional candidate bigfoot erotica scandal. I felt like I had returned to the wrong timeline. As I spent the afternoon trying to catch back onto the news cycle, I could feel the poison creep back in. After a week and a half of not having an opinion on anything, really; trying to reactivate that part of my brain — The Take Brain — felt like trying to will myself into a delusion.

The reality is that if I don’t do it, someone else will. In a recent edition of his newsletter, Welcome To Hell World, writer Luke O’Neil compares this daily cycle of having to point out and explain the bad stuff — because, look, if we’re not going to try and make sense of all of this what the hell are we even doing? — to the old practice of sin eating, agreeing to “consume” other people’s sinfulness to ensure their safe passage to heaven.

“Sometimes I think, like the sin-eaters with no other options, I behold the grief of the world without respite because I have no other choice. Each sin I consume I can turn into a living. Much like them it’s a paltry one to be sure, and we’re not much respected either. […] We’ve been driven mad with grief, and we know nothing else but to continue to compound it in a gluttonous feast. We gorge ourselves on the sins of others until it sickens us, hoping, without any sort of reliable proof, that in the end it might help someone, but knowing nonetheless that it won’t.”

This was the most alarming bit. Not that I was scraping the insides of my skull for a single halfway-decent blog idea, but that I had quite purposefully put myself in this position. I staked my career success on reading the posts and divining post ideas in response to those posts. Without the posts, without online, I had nothing.

Not that we are over here eating anybody’s sins, but the idea of the scapegoat, taking upon oneself a burden to the relief or rescue of others, we can get behind that. Especially in the web curation business. Not because we are the scapegoats, per say, but we do know a guy.

2. Another thoughtful personal essay from Quartz brings up the second position this week. “Revel in the Joy of Things You Will Never Master” is a helpful endorsement of separating ends and means. The essay concludes with a call to seize the day and enjoy things for their relevance, which is fine, but the insights that even our hobbies and simple pleasures are set on a goal-based treadmill are worth real consideration, ht JD.

In our precarious version of late capitalism, we have become an obsessively goal-oriented society. As my colleague Thu-Huong Ha wrote recently, we can scarcely read a book without attaching rigid, performance-oriented goals to it. Our side-hustles, multi-hyphenate career paths, Instagrammable creative projects, and personal branding opportunities are seemingly embedded in every hobby, pursuit, and hour of spare time. In a world of uncertainty, it can sometimes feel like we’re all trying to “do” our way out of existential dread. And so we’ve forgotten there is also the joy of being thrilled in the moment, without trying to accomplish anything at all.

Too often, we don’t start pursuits unless we can master them. We think if we don’t finish the watercolor painting, progress from downward dog to headstand, or walk the full 10km of the hike, then something bad will happen—so we shouldn’t bother trying. Conversely, we assume if we do finish those things, something good will happen. And yet usually, the outcome is neutral. The value of those pursuits is literally in the time we spend doing them, not in their payoff on the other side.

When our simple pleasures and hobbies are co-opted by law, when they serve a self-justifying cause, they cease to be pleasures or hobbies. I hear that quilts given as gifts are warmer than ones submitted to the state fair for competition.

3. Middle school trigger warning for our social science spotlight this week. What was the official brand of in-crowd clothing in your middle school? At Short Pump Middle in Henrico Virginia in 1999, it was Abercrombie & Fitch. The day my mother took me to the mall for a $35 t-shirt was my first official foray into the materialism described in The Atlantic’s interview with researcher Marsha Richins (Why Do Kids Want Stuff?). Not only is Marsha Richins a researcher into the world of materialism , but she’s also interested in how that plays out with children and adolescents.

Joe Pinsker: How does a typical middle-schooler learn that materialism can help them navigate everyday life?

Marsha Richins: I think of seventh grade as being the worst age of a person’s life. [Editor’s note: Amen.]It’s really a fraught time, and there’s all this insecurity that kids have about, “Who am I? Do people like me? What kind of person am I?” So, how do we navigate that? Well, our appearance is one of the things we navigate with. So, what does a kid see when they see another kid? They see the expression on their face, they see the body language, the posture, and the clothes they’re wearing. And so a kid who’s not very self-confident in navigating this is going to maybe feel a little more self-confident if they’re wearing the right kind of clothes rather than the wrong kind of clothes. Here we’re learning, right off the bat, that having things can help us define who we are.

My inner seventh grader heartily concurs. The interview goes on to ask about “counter-programming” and how to keep a middle schooler from becoming too materialistic. Let’s just say the research isn’t optimistic. Speaking of 1999 and Abercrombie and Fitch, I can’t believe how poorly this song aged. Woof.

4. The recent profile of Norm Macdonald in The New York Times is a fascinating read, a look into the quirky comedy elder statesmen’s relatively simple life. The man is either a pilgrim on a long and winding road, searching for the platonic ideal of a joke, or he’s being crushed by the law of comedy perfection, unable to keep sustained work and gambling away the money he does make. Maybe he’s both? Here’s the end of the profile:

Many of these remarks he prefaced with the caveat that he knew he shouldn’t say them in front of a reporter. He couldn’t help it, though; he seemed compelled to speak honestly, the way he once felt compelled to finish a pack of cigarettes at bedtime. He even talked about politics. Mostly, though, he talked about his desire to transcend such things — current events, popular wisdom, even the quotidian details of his own life — to operate in the realm of the pure joke, one that’s still funny 100 years from now.

“Making people laugh is a gift,” he said. “Preaching to them is not a gift. There are people who can do that better.” His eyes seemed to glimmer in the light from the dashboard before he completed the thought: “Preachers.”

In other humor, McSweeney’s is here to help you with the age old back-to-school question: iPad vs. Chromebook vs. Unrelenting Despair:

Now that back-to-school time has rolled around again, parents and students are facing some tough decisions. Will an iPad or Chromebook suffice for all of their academic needs? Do they need a high-powered laptop to help them be as productive as possible? How do they fight the desperate notion that everything they do to better themselves is just a futile gesture meant to amuse the powers that be who are safely ensconced in their towers and palatial estates?

Also, the Onion gives fantastic one-way love dating advice this week with “Relationship Experts Recommend Telling Woman You Would Die for Her at Outset of First Date.” And the Bee announces Joel Osteen’s latest book for Millennials, “You Can Even.”

5. Jaywalking is an interesting crime. When you need an example of a crime that’s tiny and pedantic, jaywalking is the perfect choice. All this may change, however, with the advent of self driving cars. It’s possible that the new wage for this tiny sin may very well be death:

Yours truly had fun writing about self-driving cars and algorithms back in the Technology Issue of the Mockingbird Magazine.

Jaywalking is something that people do — and, indeed until fairly recently, did with impunity. Laws to criminalize jaywalking were initially promoted by car companies about a century ago to shift blame for traffic injuries and deaths to the pedestrians they were killing…

So it’s disturbing to see promoters placing responsibly for safety now on external actors, especially those most vulnerable to their shortcomings…

It is sad that this is even a question open for debate. “Jaywalking” shouldn’t be punishable by death. And pedestrians should not be re-educated into robotic machines that move in predictable ways to meet the demands of programmers of robotic cars. It’s supposed to be the other way around.

What can we say then? Who can deliver us from this world of robot car jaywalking death?

6. Let’s wrap it up with a philosophical note. What if God actually wanted us to take his love for granted, to assume it was true without questioning it? Would that actually be so bad? That’s the question that arose after reading last Sunday’s opinion in The New York Times, “In Defense of Taking Things for Granted.”

In general, taking things for granted is considered irresponsible, even damaging. Taking your spouse for granted is a surefire way to make her feel unloved. Taking your income for granted can put you at financial risk if you lose your job. Taking your health for granted can lead you to take poor care of yourself.

But I’m unconvinced that taking things for granted is always so bad. I think there’s something distinctively valuable about allowing many aspects of your life — even the very fact of your life — to recede into the background, into a unconscious mental box we might label “presuppositions.” I would go so far as to say that these presuppositions are what enable you to live a life at all…

One of the ways I’ll feel that I’ve succeeded as a father, for example, is if it never occurs to my daughter to wonder whether I love her. I want my love to be part of her taken-for-granted background.

A similar thought applies to my relationship with my wife: Part of what makes ours a committed relationship instead of a casual one is what we are permitted to take for granted about each other (love, fidelity, support for each other’s projects). Without some background assumptions — which, to be sure, may need to be renegotiated every so often — it’s not clear that what we have could count as a relationship at all.


• The new record from Spiritualized, And Nothing Hurt, is streaming on NPR.

“He could remember all of the liturgy from the Episcopal services… word for word. The late Senator John McCain stepped in as a preacher/liturgist during his time as a POW. (Pedantic note: it would have been the ‘28 prayer book).

• Frank Bruni in the NYT agrees with Sarah Condon: famous funerals have now become classic fodder for virtue signaling. See, as an example, the above note.

• Mockingbird offices are closed for the holiday weekend, we’ll see you back on Tuesday. Happy Labor Day!