News 12.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

News 12.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web
News 12.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web
News 12.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

WAS IN A ROOM of men. Every man was over-groomed: checked shirt, cologne behind the ears, deluxe beard or clean-shaven jaw. Their conversations bounced around me in jolly rat-a-tats, but the argot evaded interpretation. All I made out were acronyms and discerning grunts, backslaps, a mannered nonchalance.

I was at the Chattanooga Convention Center for Project Voice, a major gathering for software developers, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs in conversational AI. The conference, now in its eighth year, was run by Bradley Metrock, an uncommonly tall man with rousing frat-boy energy who is, per his professional bio, a “leading thought leader” in voice tech. “I’m a conservative guy!” he said to me on a Zoom call some weeks prior. “I was like, ‘What kind of magazine is this? Seems pretty out there.’”

The magazine in question was this one. Bradley had read my essay “HUMAN_FALLBACK” in n+1’s Winter 2022 issue in which I described my year impersonating a chatbot for a real estate start-up. A lonely year, a depressing charade; it had made an impression on Bradley. He asked if I’d attend Project Voice as the “honorary contrarian speaker,” a title bestowed each year on a public figure, often a journalist, who has expressed objections to conversational AI. As part of my contrarian duties, I was to close out the conference with a thirty-minute speech to an audience of five hundred — a sort of valedictory of grievances, I gathered.

So that what? So that no one could accuse the AI pioneers of ignoring existential threats to culture? To facilitate a brief moment of self-flagellation before everyone hit the bars? I wasn’t sure, but I sensed my presence had less to do with balance and more to do with sport. Bradley kept using the word “exciting.” A few years ago, he said, the contrarian speaker stormed onstage, visibly irate. As she railed against the wickedness of the Echo Dot Kids, Amazon’s voice assistant for children, a row of Amazon executives walked out. Major sponsors! That, said Bradley, was very exciting.

Read the rest of this article at: N + 1

Recently, psychologist Maytal Eyal has observed what she calls an “epidemic of self-hatred.” Both within her work as a therapist and in her wider community, Eyal noticed how the weight of self-criticism and self-loathing wears on people’s souls. “It’s become sort of normalized,” she says. “And when people feel that way, they want to buy products to self-improve.”

A consequence of the cultural obsession with self-improvement is the hyperfixation on the self. From elaborate skin care regimens to the culling of “toxic” friends from your social circle, some will go through extreme lengths in the name of self-preservation and betterment. However, we’ve collectively overcorrected when it comes to the impulse to self-correct. When there’s always a new ideal to strive toward, a new workout to try, a new home renovation project, a new way to hack bodily functions, it can be hard to feel adequate, sufficient, enough. Very real socioeconomic, racial, and health factors impact a person’s ability to feel fulfilled, too. When a society marginalizes people based on their income, background, or abilities, it’s extremely easy to feel like we don’t measure up.

Regardless of your financial circumstances, living situation, or mental and physical health, inescapable psychological functions motivate us to strive for more. Taken too far, these compelling responses can also lead to overconsumption. The barrage of modern marketing and social media-driven comparison only furthers the desire to, well, desire. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to better your life, but there are ways to counter the innumerable pressures — both internal and external — urging you to spend or labor or improve to reach your full potential.

While all animals are compelled to survive, we as humans may be unique in the lengths to which we’ll go to better that existence. The motivating drive that tells us to seek out food when we’re hungry or to find shelter when it’s raining is primed to find other creative life upgrades. A non-peer reviewed study found that when people were asked how certain objects and experiences, like their phone, their pets, and love, could be different, they consistently thought of ways these devices, creatures, and emotions could be better.

“The reason why we went from hunting and gathering to living in skyscrapers is because someone had to imagine all of the improvements,” says the study’s co-author Adam Mastroianni, an experimental psychologist and author of the science newsletter Experimental History. “It really does seem to be something very intrinsic in the way that humans work and that they’re always imagining how things can be better than they are right now.” There is likely no limit to what people could dream of improving, Mastroianni says, considering how they imagined ways of bettering the experience of love: “They’re like, ‘Oh, there could be more of it,’” Mastroianni says.

Read the rest of this article at: Vox

News 12.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

Will Stults spent too much time on his iPhone, doom-scrolling the site formerly known as Twitter and tweeting angrily at Elon Musk as if the billionaire would actually notice. Stults’s partner, Daisy Krigbaum, was addicted to Pinterest and YouTube, bingeing videos on her iPhone before going to sleep. Two years ago, they both tried Apple’s Screen Time restriction tool and found it too easy to disable, so the pair decided to trade out their iPhones for more low-tech devices. They’d heard about so-called dumbphones, which lacked the kinds of bells and whistles—a high-resolution screen, an app store, a video camera—that made smartphones so addictive. But they found the process of acquiring one hard to navigate. “The information on it was kind of disparate and hard to get to. A lot of people who know the most about dumbphones spend the least time online,” Krigbaum said. A certain irony presented itself: figuring out a way to be less online required aggressive online digging.

The couple—Stults is twenty-nine, and Krigbaum is twenty-five—saw a business opportunity. “If somebody could condense it and simplify it to the best options, maybe more people would make the switch,” Krigbaum said. In late 2022, they launched an e-commerce company, Dumbwireless, to sell phones, data plans, and accessories for people who want to reduce time spent on their screens. This wasn’t Stults’s first attempt at entrepreneurship; his past efforts included a made-in-America clothing brand in Colorado (“That went under,” he said) and a coffee shop in the back of an ill-attended Hollywood comedy club (“A doomed enterprise,” Krigbaum said). Dumbwireless, however, has been much more successful.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 12.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

In the world of popular psychology, the work of one giant figure is hard to avoid: Carl Jung, the onetime associate of Sigmund Freud who died more than 60 years ago. If you think you have a complex about something, the Swiss psychiatrist invented that term. Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Those are his coinages, too. Persona, archetype, synchronicity: Jung, Jung, Jung.

When it comes to happiness, though, Jung can seem a bit of a downer. “‘Happiness,’” he wrote, “is such a remarkable reality that there is nobody who does not long for it.” So far, so good. But he does not leave it there: “And yet there is not a single objective criterion which would prove beyond all doubt that this condition necessarily exists.”

Clearly, this observation should not discourage any serious student of happiness. On the contrary, Jung is stating the manifest truth that we cannot lay hold of any blissful end state of pure happiness, because every human life is bound to involve negative emotions, which in fact arose to alert us to threats and keep us safe. Rather, the objective should be progress—or, in the words of Oprah Winfrey, my co-author on our recent book, Build the Life You Want, “happierness.”

If Jung was a happiness skeptic in some sense, however, he was by no means a denialist. In 1960, as he neared the end of his long life, Jung shared his own strategy for realizing that goal of progress. Refined with the aid of modern social science, Jung’s precepts might be just what you’re looking for in your life.

Jung believed that making progress toward happiness was built on five pillars.

1. Good physical and mental health
Jung believed that getting happier required soundness of mind and body. His thesis is supported by plenty of research. For example, the longest-running study of happiness—the Harvard Study of Adult Development—has shown that four of the biggest predictors of a senior citizen’s well-being are not smoking excessively, drinking alcohol moderately if at all, maintaining a healthy body weight, and exercising. Even more important for well-being is good mental health. Indeed, one study from 2013 showed that poor mental health among Britons, Germans, and Australians predicted nearly two to roughly six times as much misery as poor physical health did.

This raises what might seem like a nitpick with Jung’s contention: Good health practices seem not to raise happiness, but rather to lower unhappiness. Today, many emotion researchers have uncovered evidence of a phenomenon that Jung did not conceive of: Negative and positive emotions appear to be separable phenomena and not opposites; well-being requires a focus on each. Furthermore, researchers have identified how activities such as physical exercise can interrupt the cycle of negative emotion during moments of heightened stress, by helping moderate cortisol-hormone levels. I have found in my own work that this helps explain why people with naturally low levels of negative emotion tend to struggle with staying on a regular exercise regimen: They may feel less benefit to their well-being from going to the gym than people naturally higher in negative feelings do.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

News 12.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

For the past five years or so, I’ve read books on my phone. The practice started innocently enough. I write book reviews from time to time, and so publishers sometimes send me upcoming titles that fall roughly within my interests. When a publisher provided a choice between a PDF of a book and a physical copy, I would usually ask for the PDF, because I didn’t want my house to fill up with books that I might end up not reading. But what was at first a matter of clutter-free convenience became a habit, and now I encounter nearly every written work, regardless of its length, quality, and difficulty, on the small screen of my iPhone.

I use a variety of e-reading apps: Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, Libby. The last three books I downloaded onto the Apple Books app are Rachel Cusk’s novel “Second Place”; Malcolm Lowry’s 1947 classic “Under the Volcano,” which I bought because I wanted to see if I would enjoy it more than I did when read it twenty years ago; and Gary Indiana’s essay collection “Fire Season.” According to the little readout beneath the cover image for each book, I am nine per cent through the Cusk, a distressing three per cent through the Lowry reread, and a hundred per cent through the Indiana, a book I found liberating, both for its style and for its freeing expression of unpleasant thoughts.

The e-reading apps have their merits. At times, they become respites from the other, more addictive apps on my phone. Switching to a book from, say, Twitter, is like the phone-scroller’s version of a nice hike—the senses reorient themselves, and you feel more alert and vigorous, because you’ve spent six to eight minutes going from seven to eleven per cent of Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon.” Or you might feel a sense of pride because you’ve reached the sixty-per-cent mark in Elton John’s autobiography, “Me,” which isn’t a great work of literature but at least is better than Twitter. The book apps also seem to work as a stopgap for children, who are always lusting after screen time of any sort. My seven-year-old daughter has read hundreds of books on the Libby app, which lets you check out e-books from public libraries you belong to. As a parent, I find this wildly preferable to hearing the din of yet another stupid YouTube short or “Is it Cake?” episode coming through her iPad’s speakers.

Still, the arrival of these technologies has been accompanied by a steady decline in the number of books that get read in any form. A pair of 1999 Gallup polls, for example, found that Americans, on average, had read 18.5 books in the course of the previous twelve months. (It should be noted that these were books people had read, or said they had read, “either all or part of the way through.”) By 2021, the number had fallen to 12.6. In 2023, a National Endowment for the Arts survey found that the share of American adults who read novels or short stories had declined from 45.2 per cent in 2012 to 37.6 per cent in 2022, a record low. There are plenty of theories about why this is happening, involving broad finger-pointing toward the Internet or the ongoing influence of television, or even shifting labor conditions, as more women have entered the workforce.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker