A timely wake-up call urging us to cherish the intimacy of direct, unscripted communication.

RECLAIMING CONVERSATION

THE POWER OF TALK IN A DIGITAL AGE

The founding director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self explores the danger that text messaging is replacing in-depth, face-to-face conversation.

Divided attention has become the new norm as we shift our attention back and forth between our mobile devices and present companions whenever there is a lull in the conversation. “Fully present to each other, we learn to listen…[and] develop the capacity for empathy,” writes Turkle (Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, 2011, etc.), but “these days…we find ways around conversation.” Throughout this eye-opening book, the author cites some amazing statistics: “average American adults check their phones every six and a half minutes”; “Most teenagers send one hundred texts a day.” An even more insidious problem is that “online communication makes us feel more in charge of our time and self-presentation,” than speaking to one another. It affords the opportunity to edit what we want to say. Turkle shares an amusing anecdote of how the etiquette of text messaging requires the use of punctuation marks to indicate emotional tone. Adhering to the new norms, she texted her 21-year-old daughter with a brief message to set up a meeting for morning coffee, but her daughter was alarmed. By omitting punctuation, Turkle had inadvertently signaled distress. A more proper message would have been, “Hey…am swinging by the Square tomorrow :) on my way to a meeting later!!!!!...do you have time for an early breakfast??? Henrietta's Table? Not dorm food???” Online connections with friends and family can also change the tenor of communications, as we edit our posts to encourage positive feedback. More importantly, digital devices encroach on family time, and teenagers are not the only culprits. All too frequently, children complain of the difficulty of gaining their parents’ full attention. Turkle also wisely acknowledges the benefits we receive from our digital devices. “It is not a moment to reject technology,” she writes, “but to find ourselves.”

A timely wake-up call urging us to cherish the intimacy of direct, unscripted communication.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59420-555-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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