Another Week Ends

1. A gut-punch for all of us smartphone-using Millennials (or parents thereof). The Atlantic’s massive […]

1. A gut-punch for all of us smartphone-using Millennials (or parents thereof). The Atlantic’s massive feature piece, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” painstakingly catalogs all the ways that our devices have ruined the mental health outlook for today’s young people, referred to in the essay as “iGen” teenagers. These teenagers, who were born after the birth of the internet, and have had access to iPhones and similar “screen time” since early childhood, have staggering rates of depression and loneliness—moving towards what the author, psychologist Jean Twenge, describes as “the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.”

Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.

This is not news to many (any) of us. But what is interesting in Twenge’s report (which is exhaustive and extremely depressing) is how such technology, with all the promises of independence and exploration and social connectivity, has produced—with the certainty of scientific data—its complete opposite. The group within her study, teenagers and driving-age high schoolers, are stereotypically known for their unquenchable desire for freedom, for cars and dates and spending money. But the essay reports fewer driver’s licenses, fewer high schoolers going on dates, fewer with after-school jobs. Most high schoolers, instead, stay home.

The number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2015; the decline has been especially steep recently. It’s not only a matter of fewer kids partying; fewer kids are spending time simply hanging out. That’s something most teens used to do: nerds and jocks, poor kids and rich kids, C students and A students. The roller rink, the basketball court, the town pool, the local necking spot—they’ve all been replaced by virtual spaces accessed through apps and the web.

And as Twenge continues, she says these are bound to make kids unhealthy. For a variety of reasons we already know. But for teenagers in particular, the use of social media is about the allure to get beyond—but the ironic entanglement in—the experience of being left out. And that’s an impulse not just limited to lonely teenagers, but lonely people. Twenge seems surprised by the findings, but I’m surprised she’s surprised at the story below:

In July 2014, a 13-year-old girl in North Texas woke to the smell of something burning. Her phone had overheated and melted into the sheets. National news outlets picked up the story, stoking readers’ fears that their cellphone might spontaneously combust. To me, however, the flaming cellphone wasn’t the only surprising aspect of the story. Why, I wondered, would anyone sleep with her phone beside her in bed? It’s not as though you can surf the web while you’re sleeping. And who could slumber deeply inches from a buzzing phone?

Curious, I asked my undergraduate students at San Diego State University what they do with their phone while they sleep. Their answers were a profile in obsession. Nearly all slept with their phone, putting it under their pillow, on the mattress, or at the very least within arm’s reach of the bed. They checked social media right before they went to sleep, and reached for their phone as soon as they woke up in the morning (they had to—all of them used it as their alarm clock). Their phone was the last thing they saw before they went to sleep and the first thing they saw when they woke up. If they woke in the middle of the night, they often ended up looking at their phone. Some used the language of addiction. “I know I shouldn’t, but I just can’t help it,” one said about looking at her phone while in bed. Others saw their phone as an extension of their body—or even like a lover: “Having my phone closer to me while I’m sleeping is a comfort.”

On a (not that much) lighter note, as a companion: “I’m Winning My Battle With Smartphone Addiction.”

2. Cannot wait to see:

3. In Manhattan, cops are cutting down on “broken window policing,” the strategy of enforcement that believes if you catch a criminal in a small violation, it will prevent the occurrence of larger crimes. (Obviously a strategy not wise to the book of Romans.) The small crime in question is “turnstile jumping,” evading fares and riding the subway for free. Police say they will no longer prosecute, citing the reason that “What we’re doing isn’t working.” As the DA Cyrus Vance sees it, the punishment is an attempt to meet trespass head-on, but failing to look at the deeper problem—that criminalizing a person makes them a repeat offender. And yet, the question always arises, as it does in our own lives: Is pat permissiveness going to ruin everything? (ht JT).

“Most offenders aren’t looking to beat the system,” Luongo said. “It’s simply that they’ve had to make a choice between paying for the subway or going to a doctor’s appointment, taking their kid somewhere, getting to a homeless shelter or other things they need in their life.”

… Detractors have argued that halting prosecution will create a subway free-for-all. Vance disagrees. He said his office has reduced intakes for minor broken-windows crimes like drinking in public by roughly 25 percent in the past four years, and that the same question was raised: Are we going to have a spike in crime?

4. An interesting (if unsurprising) glimpse into the Silicon Valley understanding of the innovative workplace. Seems the new is the same as the old: despite all the clichés about the bumper cars and bouncy balls and the in-house masseuse, it’s all really a ploy to be the type of person who is always “killing it,” “crushing it,” “outgrinding, outworking, outhustling everyone.” It seems Silicon Valley is just running in a different race, but running all the same. This is the credo of the West Coast Nerd Commando Hustle.

“Everyone wants to be a model employee,” said Anim Aweh, a clinical social worker in the Bay Area who sees a lot of stressed-out tech workers. “One woman told me: ‘The expectation is not that you should work smart, it’s that you should work hard. It’s just do, do, do, until you can’t do anymore.’ ”

This has led to tragedy. Last year, Joseph Thomas, an engineer at Uber, committed suicide. His widow blamed the company’s gung-ho culture, with its long hours and intense psychological pressure. Now some are pushing back. David Heinemeier Hansson, a software developer, is on a crusade to persuade entrepreneurs that they can succeed without working themselves to death. (The sad thing is that this even needs to be said.)

5. A merciless cultural take on Taylor Swift’s new single, written by Mark Harris at Vulture. Fair warning, if you totally love her new single, go ahead and skip this one. I’m not interested so much in the connection made to Trump’s presidency (though I do think it’s fair) as I am in the cultural milieu within which he and Swift (and we) live in: an environment of competing narcissism that is both bent towards dominance (see #4 above) and defining one’s dominance by way of one’s wounded ego-feuds. Swift’s song uses a bizarre death-and-resurrection allegory to describe how she (meaning, her reputation) was killed, but how she recreated herself better, stronger than before. A René Girard heyday right here (ht GP):

“Look What You Made Me Do” — it’s right there in the title — is an anthem that turns the abrogation of personal responsibility into a posturing statement of empowerment. With its tense “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? … ’Cause she’s dead!” it embraces the possibility of calling “Do over!” as a form of self-realization, and imagines a world in which a clean slate means never having to say you’re sorry because every conceivable way you lash out must be someone else’s fault.

And, brilliantly, Harris finishes the essay with a zinger, not at Trump or Swift, but at numero uno:

None of this exists without our complicity. We may smirk at it, but it smirks right back, lets us know we’re in no position to judge, and leaves us with this sour revelation: This is also our fault. Look what we made us do.

6. For those who can’t get enough of the Reformation anniversary, Pew released a study about Protestant belief systems today versus Luther’s 500 years ago. And with that in mind, here’s a quote from the theologian Scott mentioned in his post earlier this week, Brian Gerrish, in his book Christian Faith: Dogmatics in Outline:

The ideal Lutheran lives in the liberating joy of unconditional forgiveness and is ever watchful for the least trace of a resurgent works righteousness, although eagerness for neighborly good works is not thereby diminished but inspired. The ideal Calvinist is a dutiful son or daughter pledged to willing obedience and always on guard against a complacent faith without works, although it is not filial obedience but fatherly indulgence alone that secures their confidence in God. Because even saints are sinners, in both ideals the saint is viewed through that we may call the “dialectic” of healing and forgiveness; but in each ideal there is a distinctive emphasis. There will always be such modifications in the profile of a saint. They are not exclusive. They need one another to describe the fullness of Christian faith.

7. Lastly, but most importantly, in the midst of Houston’s trouble, I want to direct you again to our post from earlier this week. Mockingbird’s loved ones, friends, and family in the Houston area need help. If you’d like to help, check out how you can here.


3 responses to “Another Week Ends: Houston, Taylor Swift, Smartphones, Broken Window Policing, the Silicon Valley Hustle, and the Shape of Water”

  1. David Zahl says:

    1. Those charts from Twenge is downright disturbing.
    2. That song by Lacy Green is a stonecold classic.

  2. Sean says:

    3. That part about our culture of competitive narcissism got me out of nowhere. Ouch.

  3. David Zahl says:

    Also from that Silicon Valley article:

    “Last year, Lyft published a blog post praising a driver who kept picking up fares even after she went into labor and was driving to the hospital to give birth. Critics saw dystopian implications — “horrifying” was how Gizmodo put it — and Lyft deleted the post. But people at the company, including the driver herself, seemed genuinely puzzled by the negative reaction.”

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