Tuesday, August 15, 2017

"Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?"

This title looks very much like clickbait – but in fact it points to a long Atlantic article by Jean M. Twenge (of "narcissism epidemic" fame). She is pitching her new book, which is bound to be again "controversial" – iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – and What That Means for the Rest of Us. She says all sorts of troubling statistics reflecting the mental lives of American teens took an abrupt upward turn about 5 years ago – the year when smartphone ownership reached critical mass. For example, “boys’ depressive symptoms increased by 21 percent from 2012 to 2015, while girls’ increased by 50 percent." Also – and not completely unrelated, “three times as many 12-to-14-year-old girls killed themselves in 2015 as in 2007, compared with twice as many boys” (and “in 2011, for the first time in 24 years, the teen suicide rate was higher than the teen homicide rate”). (see full post at isardamov.com). 

Monday, August 14, 2017

“When Silicon Valley Takes LSD”

This is the title of a segment on CNN describing a curious phenomenon – the extent to which IT developers and entrepreneurs have become dependent on LSD as a “creativity” prop. One of them, Tim Ferriss, states flatly: “The billionaires I know, almost without exception, use hallucinogens on a regular basis." Why should this be the case? Perhaps they really, really need it. Even in neurotypicals, engagement in a task that requires focused attention or analytical thinking shuts down the default mode network – the seat of insight and intuition in the human brain. The Silicon Valley types, no doubt, are much, much better at this. So they would desperately need a substance allowing some key hubs of the DMN to continue to hum, no matter what. (see full post at issardamov.com)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Who is most “academically adrift” – and why?

Seven years ago, sociologists-turned-education-experts Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa published a book (under the same name) in which they made a startling argument. Unveiling a study involving 2,300 American students, they claimed they had observed very “limited learning on college campuses.” A majority of students were allegedly showing no or negligible improvement in their thinking after 4 years of higher learning. Arum’s and Roksa’s methods and conclusions attracted much flak from more optimistic experts and observers. There was one curious assertion, however, which almost got lost in the whole debate. Arum and Roksa had found that students majoring in business administration and education were making the least progress of all. To the extent that their data can be trusted, what could be a plausible explanation for this curious finding? I offer a counterintuitive explanation in my new book, Mental Penguins: The Neverending Education Crisis and the False Promise of the Information Age. And in the full version of this post on another, learning-focused blog I have started at isardamov.com.

Friday, April 14, 2017

President Trump’s beautiful flip-flops

To the surprise of many, it took President Trump only 48 hours to suddenly change his mind about a host of hefty issues. He decided China was not a “currency manipulator,” after all; ordered a massive missile strike on a Syrian air field; cooled toward Russia and its perceived strongman; acknowledged NATO was no longer obsolete; and praised the U.S. Export-Import Bank – which he had pledged to shut down. One of the explanations given for this torrent of policy U-turns is that the country’s CEO is simply learning about all the issues involved – and finding out these may be more complicated than Fox News had led him to believe. For example, President Trump noted it had taken 10 minutes of conversation with the Chinese president (more like 5 – if the translation is not counted) to make him see China’s relation to North Korea in new light. Whatever the failing liberal press was saying, he seemed to believe his new “flexibility” only showed he was pragmatic rather than bound to rigid ideological commandments. There may be, however, a less charitable explanation for it.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Our startups, ourselves

In the NYT, John Herrman recalls an astute observation made by computer scientist John Dougman in the now distant 1990 (“New Technology Is Built on a ‘Stack.’ Is That the Best Way to Understand Everything Else, Too?” “Invariably,” Dougman wrote, “the explanatory metaphors of a given era incorporate the devices and the spectacles of the day.” The ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, deployed hydraulic and pneumatic metaphors reflecting the technology they used to pump water. During the Enlightenment, the human organism was conceived as a sophisticated machine, not unlike the newly ubiquitous mechanical clocks, watches, and related mechanisms. With the spread of IT, terms borrowed from computer science – like programmed, bandwidth, or hack – become the new master metaphors. One of the trendiest among these seems to be the “stack” – a combination of elements arranged (as if) on top of each other, well integrated and assuring the smooth functioning of a company (or a human being).

Monday, March 20, 2017

Sincere blue eyes – wink, wink…

What do Donald Trump, Kelyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell have in common? Blue eyes. Blue eyes are, of course, very common among people of German and Irish descent. But the extent to which steely eyes have always been overrepresented in the upper echelon of American politics is quite striking. Thirty-one out of 44 presidents (including the 5 squeezed between Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama) have had blue eyes. And the second most common color has been gray, with 6 distinguished representatives.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Narcissism works – really!

I posted this on Christmas Eve, 2014. I am still amazed how well life continues to imitates art, kind of:

"So the DJIA has pushed beyond 18,000. It may not quite get to 30,000 soon, but still – what a momentous achievement! Which reminds me of a remarkable #Colbert interview from March 2009. The guest was #EmilyYoffe who had just published an article on Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Slate. The previous week the Dow Jones had hit rock bottom at 6,547, and Ms. Yoffe explained somewhat sternly that the whole financial meltdown had resulted from Americans “binging on ‘I deserve it.’” After asking a few probing questions, the Colbert character retorted: “But the economy and the market is really all based on confidence. Why don’t we just recapture that narcissism that we had a year ago and pretend that everything is just OK, and won’t the market come right back? Won’t we just rebuild the bubble?” At the time this was meant as a joke, but now the joke is on the non-believers, or should I say – the non-narcissists?"

Monday, January 30, 2017

Machiavelli saw it all coming?

“Society cannot exist without inequality of fortunes and inequality of fortunes cannot exist without religion. When a man is dying of hunger alongside another who stuffs himself, it is impossible to make him accede to the difference unless there is an authority which says to him God wished it thus; there must be some poor and some rich in the world but hereafter and for all eternity the division will be made differently.”