TEN ARGUMENTS FOR DELETING YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS RIGHT NOW

The experiment could be a useful one, though it will darken the hearts of the dark lords—a winning argument all its own.

In a book whose title says it all, technoprophet Lanier (Dawn of the New Everything, 2017, etc.) weighs in against predatory technoprofit.

In a world of dogs, it’s better to be a cat. So, in this brief polemic, writes the author, who uses the animal terms advisedly: Dogs are easily trained to respond to stimuli, as Ivan Pavlov knew; humans are as easily trained, à la B.F. Skinner, when given proper rewards. “Dog whistles,” Lanier adds meaningfully, “can only be heard by dogs.” Cats, on the other hand, live in the world while somehow not being quite of it, a model for anyone seeking to get out of the grasp of algorithms and maybe go outside for a calming walk. The metaphor has value. So does the acronym BUMMER, which Lanier coins to sum up the many pieces of his argument: “Behavior of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent.” It’s a little clunky, but the author scores points with more direct notes: “E,” he writes, “is for Earning money from letting the worst assholes secretly screw with everyone else.” As we’re learning from the unfolding story of Cambridge Analytica, which just filed for bankruptcy, he’s got a point. Lanier advocates untethering from social media, which fosters addiction and anomie and generally makes us feel worse and more fearful about each other and the world. Continuing the dog metaphor, it—Lanier uses “media” as a singular noun, which, considering its monolithic nature, may no longer send grammarians screaming—also encourages pack behavior, howling at strangers and sounds in the night. His central objection, though, would seem to be this: “We have enshrined the belief that the only way to finance a connection between two people is through a third person who is paying to manipulate them.” If we accept that, then it’s self-evident why one would want to unplug.

The experiment could be a useful one, though it will darken the hearts of the dark lords—a winning argument all its own.

Pub Date: June 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-19668-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2018

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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