Commentary: Joel Stein’s Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation

The cover:

As many others have already noted, this cover is offensive in a number of ways. Showing a narcissistic young woman taking a ‘selfie’ preening before the camera with nothing else around. It offends because it places her in a space completely by herself, interested only in herself. Humans are innately self-interested, but to totally divest her from either an environment or other objects is to raise the rhetoric.

The article:

The article attempts to differentiate itself from the past by stating that “I am about to do what old people have done throughout history: call those younger than me lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow. But I have studies! I have statistics! I have quotes from respected academics! Unlike my parents, my grandparents and my great-grandparents, I have proof.” This is supposed to be some clever attempt at both trashing the old, and trashing the new. Joel Stein attempts to engender himself with a different generation, namely with Generation X.

Are we supposed to take his self-serving lines about checking his email and facebook and twitter to mean that secretly he’s one of us? It’s outlandish and offensive that he could so easily pigeonhole an entire generation and attempt to lay coop in the very same space. What particularly angered me were his meta-commentary throughout the article trying to show how he is ‘one of us’. This article blatantly sought to be a polemic against the millennial generation, and yet I fail to understand why. It attempts to attack while placating. The article offers little in substance and much in words.

A particularly infuriating statement was “They’re financially responsible; although student loans have hit record highs, they have less household and credit-card debt than any previous generation on record–which, admittedly, isn’t that hard when you’re living at home and using your parents’ credit card.” Why do you think students are currently living at home? The Great Recession has led to a poor job market for college graduates, one that leaves well-educated young adults from necessarily moving on immediately to financial independence. Stein constantly praises the critiques or critiques then praises. It seems that he can’t even make up his mind about what good and bad this new generation is brining into the world.

Further Reading:

An article by Elspeth Reeve which examines the first half of Steins article, it also links to a number of old Time magazine covers similar in vein to the one from this article.

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/05/me-generation-time/65054/

 

 

TED: How to escape education’s death valley

Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley

 

Sir Ken Robinson’s three rules:

1. The first is that human beings are naturally different and diverse

2. A principle that drives humans flourishing lives is curiosity.

3. Devolve responsibility to the school level for getting the job done

Naturally humans are diverse, no two people can ever share in the same experience of another human being. Empathy is possible, but that’s as close as we’ll come to understanding someone else’s thoughts or feelings on their own lives, and the world. As such, education should not be a one size fits all machine which strips children of their individuality in an attempt to create an army of clones who all know the same thing. Einstein was considered an idiot as a child because he wasn’t progressing in school he same way everyone else is. Yet it’s not the children he went to school with, or the teachers who held him back that humanity remembers, it is Einstein that is a household name. Creativity and uniqueness go together hand-in-hand, and as such the two should not be divorced.

Curiosity is as Mr. Robinson puts it is “the engine of achievement.” Truer words have never been spoken. Have you ever failed at a puzzle? You wonder where you went wrong, and so you study each piece looking at how the pieces fit together. This wonderment eventually leads to a break through, a eureka moment, and it is one that won’t necessarily come about if when you’re trying to figure out the puzzle someone simply gives you the answer and tells you to move onto another puzzle. Curriculum in schools may be a necessary evil, but the rate at which they are taught is horrendous. The whole class moves together reading books out loud and surmising what they think the author is trying to say. Teaching should be allowed to be individual so that students can naturally progress at different rates in different subjects. English was my strong subject all throughout school, while math fell behind. Each math class we learned a new concept every day, and being inundated with these new principles constantly scarcely allowed them to ferment in my brain so that the Pythagorean theorem actually made sense. Not to say that I didn’t pass math because I did, but I remember little of it now because I wasn’t given the opportunity to learn it at my own pace, playing to my individual strengths.

Humans are capable of achieving great things, they just need to proper framework and support system in order to nurture their individual talent. That is what the education system in American gets wrong is it try’s to teach through rote rather than understanding.

Calvin and Hobbes brilliantly demonstrates this point:

Not only does it get to the heart of rote teaching in which students memorize knowledge for the hour long test they have and then quickly discard that useless knowledge, it also pokes at teachers being paid nothing, and having little satisfaction in their jobs. Teachers should be heralded in our country for the priceless service they provide; educating the youth, educating the future of humanity. Instead they are paid meager wages that don’t allow them to live a comfortable life free from constant worry about getting by. Teaching is a labor of love, and it is one that America needs to invest in if we want our future to be as bright as it can be. The education system was originally created in order to strengthen our nation, particularly in literacy, basic knowledge, and math. Our country is now mostly literate, and possesses a basic understanding of math i.e. addition, subtraction, multiplication.

I hope that the education system becomes personalized a la Finland, but it is a daunting task to rework the machinery that has been in place for hundreds of years. Only through societies demand of change will this idea come to fruition.

 

TED: The key to success? Grit

Angela Lee Duckworth: The key to success? Grit

I think grit is necessary for success and for achieving happiness in all walks of life. Rejection is frequent, it’s being able to put rejection or failure behind you while learning from it at the same time, rather than dwelling on what went wrong, or what you could have done in order to change the outcome. Ms. Duckworth describes how “Dr. Dweck [study] has shown that when kids read and learn about the brain and how it changes and grows in response to challenge, they’re much more likely to persevere when they fail, because they don’t believe that failure is a permanent condition.” Failure is fluid, we are constantly moving forward in our lives unless we let ourselves or others hamper our development. I think the growth mindset is one which should be cultivated universally.

Talent isn’t the only way to succeed. If you work hard at something eventually you will succeed in one way or another. I liked Ms. Duckworth’s closing statement that,”We need to take our best ideas, our strongest institutions, and we need to test them. We need to measure whether we’ve been successful, and we have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learned.”

 

 

TED: What makes us feel good about our work?

Dan Ariely: What makes us feel good about our work?

Work has always been a complex issue. Is work done solely to subsist? If nobody was forced to work and everybody could do as they wish, what would the world be like? Utopia? Or does working provide something important for the soul?

This talk is interesting because it attempts to look at what motivates people to work, and what people take out of their work. The various experiments that Mr. Ariely conducted showed how motivation via payment works to a certain point, but that an equally meaningful yet elusive motivation is the enjoyment and pride that people take from their work. If you recognize someone for something that they have done well either through praise or monetary compensation  they will be more likely to respond positively and their work will continue this way. If too much negativity or a lack of viewing the hard work someone has put in is ignored, this can heavily weigh on the performance of a company’s employees.

Mr. Ariely sums up one of his experiments by explaining, “So the good news is that adding motivation doesn’t seem to be so difficult. The bad news is that eliminating motivation seems to be incredibly easy, and if we don’t think carefully, we might overdo it.”

If you’ve ever worked a dead end job where you’re only there for the money and there is no hope or room for improvement either salary wise, or status wise, you know how little you strive to achieve. Whether or not you accomplish little or a lot in a day has no affect in the paycheck you bring home at the end of the week. This may leave some undaunted who try and achieve as much as they can for a good reference, but for a lot of people they work the job solely for the money, and they aren’t looking for some glowing reference for simply having worked as a checker at some random Trader Joe’s.

Work’s meaning comes from the way people interpret how their efforts have been rewarded, and whether or not they feel valued in their position. Mr. Ariely sums up his talk concisely noting,

“So when we think about labor, we usually think about motivation and payment as the same thing, but the reality is that we should probably add all kinds of things to it — meaning, creation, challenges, ownership, identity, pride, etc. And the good news is that if we added all of those components and thought about them, how do we create our own meaning, pride, motivation, and how do we do it in our workplace and for the employees, I think we could get people to be more productive and happier.”

 

TED: The mind behind Tesla, SpaceX, Solar City

Elon Musk: The mind behind Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity …

I particularly liked this TED talk as Elon Musk has been a very influential innovator and entrepreneur. Elon Musk is an exemplary figure in both business and life because he takes risks in ideas that he believes in, and as a result he has founded companies which are creating technologies and systems that are improving society. Rather than resting on his laurels from helping to create Paypal and his decision to eventually sale his share, he has strived to continue innovating. SpaceX, Solar City, and Tesla are proof of this.

Harnessing renewable energies, and also using energies that we currently have more effectively to power our transportation is vital to the future of our world. We know that fossil fuels are a finite source of energy, and as a result his decision to pursue electricity as fundamental energy source of the coming decades is a step in the right direction. Mr. Musk is “extremely confident that solar will be at least a plurality of power, and most likely a majority, and I predict it will be a plurality in less than 20 years.” Energy for the time being will still rely on fossil fuels to power their plants, but as Mr. Musk explains the factories they use to power their batteries is being used more efficiently than current standards. Using fossil fuels more efficiently allows for the technologies which are currently being innovated to be developed more efficiently. While big energy might scoff at this, businessmen have always railed against disruptive innovations which cut against their bottom line. Solar, wind, and water generated power plants are fundamental to our continued existence on this planet. His forward thinking ideas are necessary to insure that the planet remains habitable and healthy not only fifty years from now, but a hundred or hundreds of years from now. SolarCity and their attempt to lower utility bills by front-loading the cost of installing their solar panels is a step in the right direction.

A multi-planet future will eventually become necessary as we search for habitable planets in order to deal with our blooming population as the Earth has both a finite amount of habitable land, and a finite amount of energy. Reusing the rockets which deliver the payload to outer space is a novel idea, and like most which truly innovate is at it’s very core a simple one. The video of the rocket safely landing back on Earth is an exciting one for the implications that it has for lowering the cost of space travel. What I particularly like about Musk’s innovations in rocket technology for SpaceX is his decision to not pursue a patent for these new technologies. As he notes, “Since our primary competitors are national governments, the enforceability of patents is questionable.” While this acknowledges the difficulties he would face in enforcing patents around the world, it is heartening to see an innovator choosing to forgo patenting new technologies that benefit society as a whole. Too often patents are now used as a sword rather than a shield, and allowing others to learn from the technologies that are being developed and also to encourage furthering these innovations is a breath of fresh air.

Novel ideas which revolutionize humanity tend to separate themselves from the thinking of the time. The industrial revolution is an example, with the advent of steam power, and then through fossil fuel burning coal plants. Innovations which truly change the landscape of our world separate themselves from set technologies and energies of the time. Encyclopedia Britanica historically know as the most accurate record of human knowledge did not foresee Wikipedia, and the effects that a open source encyclopedia would have. The same way that farmers with animal powered plows did not anticipate the affect that machines would have on their farming processes and labor. Tesla is attempting to stand apart from the current thought of simply increasing fuel efficiency to fundamentally changing the energy source which powers day-to-day transportation. New technologies always upload the cost of their advancements with high price tags. The fact that Tesla cars are attractive to the wealthy bodes well for lowering the cost of these technologies because the more they are adopted, the cheaper they will eventually become to manufacture. With $30,000 being the cheapest car that Tesla aims to produce in the next few years it helps consumers adopt this new technology. I must say that I am happy to see that Tesla’s future seems bright despite recent journalistic attempts to discredit Tesla’s current abilities. In dispute is a recent write-up of the Tesla Model S by the New York Times. Usually a source of integrity, their recent article by John Broder seemed to question the feasibility electric cars have in practice rather than just in theory. Countering this argument, Tesla posted an article discrediting the conditions under which Mr. Broder tested the car. The dialogue between the two sources are conflicting yet I am more inclined to side with Tesla’s version of the events as their snafu with Top Gear in 2011 rightfully so put a sour taste in Tesla’s mouth, while teaching them that in order to disprove their critics that a monitoring device be put into any cars which are test driven by journalists or companies that may have an ulterior motive in seeing Tesla stand up the claims of their viability. If you care to read John Broder’s rebuttal, it is here, as is Margaret Sullivan’s – the public opinion editor – response.

Mr. Musk’s talk is one of the better TED talks I’ve recently seen, and he is definitely a man who should be watched in the coming future.

TED: How to separate fact and fiction online

Markham Nolan: How to separate fact and fiction online

 

Separating fact from fiction has become something that anyone using the Internet has had to decipher. Before when news and facts were printed in book or on television, for the most part they were considered reputable, and trustworthy. Now people can upload data for anything you can imagine on the Internet, a lot of the time without having to be fact checked, or proofread.

Fake news sometimes goes out, such as fake tweets and statuses when Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast. Journalists around the US were looking for credible sources, and one of the tools now being employed is Twitter. As Nolan states, “Twitter is where most journalists now go. It’s like the de facto real-time newswire, if you know how to use it, because there is so much on Twitter.” This is helpful because although there is a tremendous amount of information that can create a paradox of choice, there are tools and tactics that can help you find the truth about a subject. When fake tweets and videos were posted during the storm, that meant the journalists had to deal with fakes, so we had to deal with old photos that were being reposted.” This obviously hits home, as Hurricane Sandy has been very much in the public eye.

I enjoyed the investigation of the storm video he mentioned in his talk because it shows how different websites across the Internet can be used in different ways collectively to check the credibility of a piece of information. Mr. Nolan’s video ends on a positive note with him stating, “Although the web is running like a torrent, there’s so much information there that it’s incredibly hard to sift and getting harder every day, if you use them intelligently, you can find out incredible information.”

We have the tools, now we just need to use them.

TED: Your Brain on Video Games

Daphne Bavelier: Your brain on video games

As a gamer I found this video particularly insightful, and positive. Typically gamers are told that they are wasting their time and energy by playing video games because they gain nothing from it. It’s nice to see that video games such as action games actually increase our abilities. Gamers have better vision because the tracking ability has been honed. It has also been shown that gamers have better peripheral vision.

Increased vision and attention span are two particularly advantageous traits to pick up from video games. As Ms. Bavelier states, “So your typical normal adult can have a span of about three or four objects of attention. That’s what we just did. Your action video game player has a span of about six to seven objects of attention.” We makes this work I feel like is that we do this subconsciously while playing action video games like CoD. In CoD you are always paying attention to a number of things: how many bullets you have in the chamber/the gun, the minimap in the corner of the screen which shows your position relative to enemies and allies, how many people you’ve killed in a row, and how close you are to a kill streak, all of that on top of the actual visuals of your character running around trying to kill other players. We don’t realize how much it is making our brain work, but it is happening without us even realizing it.

The best part about these things we are doing subconsciously is that they seem to stick because “After two weeks of training on action video games, they actually perform better, and the improvement is still there five months after having done the training.” If these games are going to have long term lasting affects on education, and rehabilitation then as she stated that is very promising. It’s promising for every gamer because even if we are looking solely for entertainment, we will at the same time be gaining education i.e. better vision and attention span albeit unknowingly.

What I would be really interested in is how your brain reacts to certain puzzle games, such as Portal or Portal 2, or puzzles in action games, and what affect they have on your brain. Are they the same as physical puzzles, or do they somehow differ? I do believe that more studies need to be conducted because video games are here to stay, and their affects/benefits should be examined.

I enjoyed her comparison to wine; certain things in moderation can actually improve our life. Video games “have a number of ingredients that are actually really powerful for brain plasticity, learning, attention, vision, etc., and so we need and we’re working on understanding what are those active ingredients so that we can really then leverage them to deliver better games, either for education or for rehabilitation of patients.”

Overall a very fascinating talk by Ms. Bavelier!

 

TED: The Future of Lying

Jeff Hancock: The future of lying

I found this video to be very interesting, and informative. Mr. Hancock approached lying from a social scientist perspective, and attempted to classify different lies, and why we tell different lies. He starts by explaining how everyone lies, and then goes into how often they lie.  How often do you lie? Can you even consider white lies a lie at all? Obviously if you’re Pinocchio, they add up in end. Most of the lies we tell are never uncovered. According to Mr. Hancock, “a lot of research shows that we all lie once or twice a day.” Once or twice a day adds up to over 700 lies a year if we only tell two lies per day. Lying is a universal thing, like the hit TV show House, “Everybody lies.” While you may be quick to think you don’t lie, they don’t have to be big, they can be minuscule things. Hancock expands, “This fits with a lot of the research, which suggests that lying is very pervasive. It’s the pervasiveness, combined with the centrality to what it means to be a human, the fact that we can tell the truth or make something up, that has fascinated people throughout history.”

So what reasons do we have for lying? Mr. Hancock tells us “We like to protect ourselves or for our own gain or for somebody else’s gain. So there are some pathological liars, but they make up a tiny portion of the population. We lie for a reason. Just because people can’t see us doesn’t mean we’re going to necessarily lie.” Each person must weigh whether or not being found out is worth the lie they are telling, which is an interesting way of weighing things.  Lying does have its costs, but people are willing to lie because “they’re aimed at protecting the relationships. These aren’t just people being jerks. These are people that are saying, look, I don’t want to talk to you now, or I didn’t want to talk to you then, but I still care about you. Our relationship is important.” As the famous saying goes, “the road to perdition is paved with good intentions.” Lies are told for reasons, but technology is changing how, and when we lie. Of email, the phone, and in person, “that surprises people the most is that email is the most honest of those three media. And it really throws people for a loop because we think, well, there’s no nonverbal cues, so why don’t you lie more? The phone, in contrast, the most lies. Again and again and again we see the phone is the device that people lie on.” It’s interesting that people are naturally selective on what platforms they lie on, and it tends to be one, which next to being in person, is usually erased. Phone calls are rarely ever recorded unless you’re Nixon. The phone offers the advantage of not having nonverbal cues also. The Internet doesn’t have nonverbal cues, but it remains a record, not something that is processed and then forgotten.

Technology is now shaping how we lie. No surprise that people frequently lie on their online dating profiles; it’s been both a reality, and a cliché since it first appeared. In general though, people won’t craft expansive lies, rather they will tell small lies so that when they meet people, they aren’t immediately unmasked. Hancock choose a great statistic to look at for people lying — men’s height. He found that they lied, but usually by less than an inch. Why? because — “people lied frequently, but they lied subtly, not too much. They were constrained.” Reality is what constrains us in our lies. What’s interesting is that we’re starting to see that humans aren’t the only ones who tell lies. Koko, a gorilla, who was taught sign language, once lied to her trainer about ripping a sink off of a wall. She signed that her pet kitten did it. So where does lying come from? Does it come from language? If so, then there is no way that we can find it’s beginning because then the problem cannot also be the solution.

One of the more interesting parts of his talk is about the digital record we all leave behind. One of the better quotes from The Social Network was, “It didn’t stop you from writing it. As if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared. The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark, it’s written in ink.” The Internet differs from writing because there are numerous backups and copies of the things you post, so it’s not as simple as tearing up the lone evidence, which shows your falsities. As he stated, “Now, when you are about to say or do something, we can think, do I want this to be part of my legacy, part of my personal record? Because in the digital age we live in now, in the networked age, we are all leaving a record.” Perhaps what separates us from the pat of humanity is the ready access to technology where we can store our interactions with others — whether it is through text, email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, video, etc. Different companies then store the interactions between us, and between other users. Our ‘history’. The Internet is making it both easier to lie, and harder to lie at the same time. With a few craftily placed websites, user accounts, etc. Internet trolls can persuade public perception on certain events or certain topics. So this database, and the trust that comes from the database can be used for mischievous purposes. People lying amongst their friends and families, however, has taken the opposite turn. You can’t simply write something on the bathroom stall anymore, and leave it there. People will now be able to check what you say against the truth. Even if you delete your lie, chances are it was either screenshotted, or it still exists somewhere on the internet. While this is a bad thing, it does offer some self-reflection as Hancock mentions, “And I think we’re going to see a lot more of that, where we can reflect on who we are by looking at what we wrote, what we said, what we did.” Will we like the person we see when we look back on our history that is written in ink? Liars of the past could get away with their lies fading into the past, but that isn’t true in today’s age.

The question I take from this is, how will this affect lying in the future? Will people find ways to cheat the system? Will they become more honest? Or will they still lie based on the situation, and whether or not they can be uncovered as a liar.

 

 

TED: Online video — annotated, remixed, and popped

Ryan Merkley: Online video — annotated, remixed and popped

Popcorn looks like it’ll be a great piece of technology. “So imagine if every video that we watched on the web worked like the web, completely remixable, linked to its source content, and interactive for everyone who views it. This is a very attractive proposal, and I think that it’s great that Mozilla is actively trying to change the way we interact with the web instead of solely focusing on their web browser Firefox.

TED: My battle to expose government corruption

Heather Brooke: My battle to expose government corruption

Ms. Brooke’s talk on corruption is very interesting in it’s description of the struggle between governments, and the people ruled over by the government. Increasingly new technology is becoming available which can help citizens record their encounters with the government, or to request certain information from freedom of information acts.

One of the most troubling things that has been happening recently in America is people getting arrested for videotaping law enforcement when they are arresting someone, or stopping certain individuals. It’s frightening that they are trying to stifle public knowledge of what they are doing — if they had succeeded doing that years ago then maybe we wouldn’t know about Rodney King, or other certain offenses police commit against the public. It’s absurd that they are trying to justify this by saying that it invades on police officer’s rights and their ability to do their job when they are doing a public service, and the public has a vested interest in knowing how police officers conduct their business. They are able to do this by bringing up anti-wiretapping laws stating that the officers did not give their consent to be recorded. It’s disturbing that more and more government officials are asking for ways to get around citizens private conversations or geodata, and a number of other things. But once it affects the officers themselves, they clam up and are totally against it.

Our surroundings should be questioned, as should people who are in an authority position in our government. We shouldn’t give them our blind trust and accept them to lead us correctly. As Ms. Brooke stated, “I heard the London’s Metropolitan Police Commissioner talking about why the police need access to all of our communications…he said it was a matter of life and death…there was no evidence… It was just, “Because I say so. You have to trust me. Take it on faith. “Well, I’m sorry people, but we are back to the pre-Enlightenment Church, and we need to fight against that.” I agree with her statement, we should be questioning those in power instead of simply accepting their right to rule our lives.

It’s refreshing that technology such as the Internet and smart phones are allowing the people to once again question those in power, and not only are they able to question those who are in power, but they are able to also hold them accountable. Take for example Alvin who was recently stopped and frisked in New York (link:http://www.thenation.com/article/170654/nypd-caught-tape#), and he recorded the interaction on his iPod. The encounter is appalling but the positive is it shows how technology can be used to hold law enforcement, and our interaction with the government accountable.  Technology is pushing the world towards openness, and I hope that the ‘democratization of information’ comes to be. As Ms. Brooke states, “Everybody, increasingly, around the world wants to know what people in power are doing.”