Sunday 06.09.2013 New York Times Digest

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1. How Not to Be Alone

“Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat.”

2. How the U.S. Uses Technology to Mine More Data More Quickly

Today, a revolution in software technology that allows for the highly automated and instantaneous analysis of enormous volumes of digital information has transformed the N.S.A., turning it into the virtual landlord of the digital assets of Americans and foreigners alike. The new technology has, for the first time, given America’s spies the ability to track the activities and movements of people almost anywhere in the world without actually watching them or listening to their conversations.

3. No Tie-Ins. No Touch Screens. No Apps.

“When you’re using a computer or an app, it’s giving you all the information you need. It’s a completely reactive experience. Parents are so scared of having their kids say, ‘I’m bored.’ It’s synonymous with, ‘I’m a bad parent,’ and so they never allow kids to feel boredom, which equals frustration, and so kids don’t get to the point where they have to dig deeper and figure out what to do.”

4. All Over but the Lease

“In other parts of the country, sharing a living space is a sign that young couples have taken a turn for the serious, with both pairs of hands firmly on the steering wheel. But in New York, where people platonically share windowless rooms with strangers in a trade for subway access, cohabitation and commitment do not necessarily go hand in hand. Living together is often driven as much by practicality as romance. And when the relationship unravels, one or both parties have to walk away from an apartment as well as a lover.”

5. Who’s Minding the Schools?

“The presumption is that the kind of ‘critical thinking’ taught in classrooms – and tested by the Common Core – improves job performance, whether it’s driving a bus or performing neurosurgery.”

6. Fixing the Digital Economy

“Dissect almost any ascendant center of power, and you’ll find a giant computer at the core.”

7. Don’t Take Your Vitamins

“Most people assume that, at the very least, excess vitamins can’t do any harm. It turns out, however, that scientists have known for years that large quantities of supplemental vitamins can be quite harmful indeed.”

8. Loving the Midwest

“At coffee houses, my husband was annoyed by how long it took baristas to fill his order, and on the highway, he was mystified by drivers, all of whom seemed to crowd into the right lane. At trivia nights, which are common in St. Louis as informal fund-raisers, you could buy mulligans for questions you didn’t know the answer to, which offended my husband’s sense of competitive integrity. We thought that pizza made with the beloved local cheese – Provel – tasted as if it had been cooked with cellophane. And if we went out on a weeknight, we’d be the only patrons in the restaurant by 9 o’clock and would get the impression that the staff members wanted us to hurry up so they could go home. We’d ask each other, ‘Where is everyone?'”

9. No Learning Without Feeling

“Skills-based standards ignore the basic fact that language learning must occur in a meaningful context. The basis for higher-level learning – for philosophy, psychology, literature, even political science – is the emotions and impulses people feel every day. If we leave them out of the picture, reading is bled of much of its purpose.”

10. The Joke’s on All of Us

“I love jokes, even in their frequent ugliness. They illuminate the irresolvable contradictions our lives are built on. And they make us vulnerable to other people’s reactions – will you laugh, or not? Will I please you or offend you? That’s a complicated calculus when humor depends on surprise, which is close to shock, which is perilously close to outrage. It’s possible to make jokes about anything – even rape and the Holocaust – but I can’t think of a truly successful joke that is, at its base, attacking the victim. It hurts us when our jokes hurt others. But we can’t give it up; we keep trying to tell good jokes, because we love the sound of laughter, my voice joining with yours in a fearful celebration of how the frailties of others are also our own.”

11. Your Smartphone Is Watching You

“It isn’t that the Internet has been penetrated by the surveillance state; it’s that the Internet, in effect, is a surveillance state.”

12. Showing It All, Revealing Nothing

“We’ve exchanged nakedness, which is all about being genuinely exposed, for mere nudity, which is about being decorative.”

13. It’s a Small World of Real Housewives

“The closest analogy to the Bravo franchise may be McDonald’s, a multinational corporation that is known for rigid standards and uniformity, but that permits small variations overseas. There are stand-alone McCafes that serve espressos and lattes in Malaysia and El Salvador; the McDonald’s in Rome has marble counters and vaulted stone ceilings that suggest that communion wafers might be on the menu.”

14. His Target Is Assassinations

“If we embrace assassination as a central component of our foreign policy and continue with the mentality that we can kill our way to victory – or worse, kill our way to peace – then we’re whistling past the graveyard.”

15. The ‘I Dos,’ Unplugged

“The hottest topic in wedding circles this year seems to be whether to request, remind or even require that guests go cold turkey on technology during the event.”

16. Just Tap Here: Technology and Travel

“Technology and travel are becoming ever more fused, even at hotels where for centuries the basic demand has remained unchanged: a safe place to lay one’s head.”

17. Khaled Hosseini: By the Book

“Qualities you need to get through medical school and residency: Discipline. Patience. Perseverance. A willingness to forgo sleep. A penchant for sadomasochism. Ability to weather crises of faith and self-confidence. Accept exhaustion as fact of life. Addiction to caffeine a definite plus. Unfailing optimism that the end is in sight.”

18. The Big Money

“By ‘the unwinding,’ Packer is really referring to three large transformations, which have each been the subject of an enormous amount of research and analysis. The first is the stagnation of middle-class wages and widening inequality. Depending on which analyst you read, this has to do with the changing nature of the information-age labor market, changing family structures, rising health care costs, the decline of unions or the failure of education levels to keep up with technology. The second is the crushing recession that began in 2008. Depending on which analyst you read, this was caused by global capital imbalances, bad Federal Reserve policy, greed on Wall Street, faulty risk-assessment models or the insane belief that housing prices would go on rising forever. The third transformation is the unraveling of the national fabric. Depending on which analyst you read, this is either a gigantic problem (marriage rates are collapsing; some measures of social connection are on the decline) or not a gigantic problem (crime rates are plummeting, some measures of social connection are improving).”

19. The Fortress of Solicitude

“To paraphrase the cultural critic Lewis Mumford: Every generation revolts against its mothers and makes friends with its grandmothers. Don’t be surprised if women of the next generation look askance at biodynamic vegetables and hand-knit scarves, don suits made of synthetic fibers, drink big cups of toxins and head to work in soulless skyscrapers.”

20. Faith in the Unseen

“Though neither a research scientist nor a trained philosopher, he is infuriated by the sunny confidence of neuroscience, arguing that it is not just a product of ambitious overreach but, more, a willful act of arrogance.”

21. The Genius of Getting It Wrong

“Science is a mess.”

22. Dark Places

“Captivity narratives go back to the very beginnings of American literature in the 17th century, and were the first literary form dominated by women’s experience.”

23. How Much Is Michael Bolton Worth to You?

“The artists who charge the least tend to see the most scalping.”

24. This Is Your Brain on Coffee

“Men who reported drinking two or three cups of coffee a day were 10 percent less likely to have died than those who didn’t drink coffee.”

25. Who Made That?

“This special issue of the magazine is devoted to innovation and its assorted mysteries. Where do good ideas come from? How do they catch on? Expanding on our weekly Innovation column … we explore the genius of everything from BuzzFeed and the Brannock Device to gay marriage and low-carb diets.”

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