The Hypocrisy of People Like Me

Meaning people 57 years old, give or take a decade or two. We routinely bemoan the negative consequences of the internet, social media, and “screens” on the young.

But when it comes to an utter lack of electronic etiquette, or damn, even life and death cyber bullying, our offspring have nothing on us.

Take the case of Frank Meza, a retired doctor from Los Angeles, who spent the last few years running parts of marathons and then lying about his results. Who the hell knows why he felt compelled to burnish his athletic reputation at a time in life when most people finally stop giving a damn about others’ opinions.

That will most likely remain a mystery since he was found dead in the Los Angeles River after telling his wife he was going for a run. What we know from his family is that he was devastated by the internet-based backlash to his fanciful alternative reality. Devastated more specifically by the numerous, aggrieved, middle aged contributors to MarathonInvestigation.com who are known for ruthlessly pouncing on fake speedsters of which there seems to be a steady supply.

The are numerous lessons to learn from this tragic loss of life; among them, people from the Pre-Internet Era like me should stop pretending we have the moral high ground.

 

Abolish Billionaires?

There are about 2,200 billionaires in the world, about one-fourth of those are U.S. citizens.

Farhad Manjoo recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that engendered more than 1,500 comments. Most simply, he argued, we should abolish billionaires through much higher taxes and related policies.

When it comes to billionaires, I’m of a mixed mind. On the one hand, given rising inequality, I’m surprised more people aren’t agitating against members of the three -comma club. Not just writing commentaries, but taking to the streets Occupy Wall Street style.

On the other hand, as the philosopher Peter Singer points out, some billionaires are giving away the bulk of their wealth to philanthropy. Bill Gates, in particular, plans to give away 99.6% of the cash money I paid him back in the day for successive versions of Microsoft Office.

Of course, as Manjoo points out, we have to analyze whether the billionaires’ charitable giving is having positive effects or not. Anand Giridharadas style. As Manjoo explains, Giridharadas argues that many billionaires approach philanthropy as a kind of branding exercise to maintain a system in which they get to keep their billions. Especially when they put their largess into politics.

“. . . whether it’s Howard Schultz or Michael Bloomberg or Sheldon Adelson, whether it’s for your team or the other — you should see the plan for what it is: an effort to gain some leverage over the political system, a scheme to short-circuit the revolution and blunt the advancing pitchforks.”

Gates might be an outlier, but his giving is so exemplary, I’m less inclined to order a pitchfork from that billionaire with the online superstore.

Weekend Assorted Links

1. Everything you think you know about obesity is wrong. So damn substantive, I should probably just stop here. A must read for anyone interested in being a more intelligent, caring human being. Here’s some context:

“About 40 years ago, Americans started getting much larger. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 80 percent of adults and about one-third of children now meet the clinical definition of overweight or obese. More Americans live with “extreme obesity“ than with breast cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and HIV put together.

And the medical community’s primary response to this shift has been to blame fat people for being fat. Obesity, we are told, is a personal failing that strains our health care system, shrinks our GDP and saps our military strength. It is also an excuse to bully fat people in one sentence and then inform them in the next that you are doing it for their own good. That’s why the fear of becoming fat, or staying that way, drives Americans to spend more on dieting every year than we spend on video games or movies. Forty-five percent of adults say they’re preoccupied with their weight some or all of the time—an 11-point rise since 1990. Nearly half of 3- to 6- year old girls say they worry about being fat.

The emotional costs are incalculable.”

2. This cult comes highly recommended. I count myself a member. The top reader comments are equally interesting.

3. HOW award—headline of the week. With each tweet, Kavanaugh’s chances lessen. Please keep tweeting.

4. Can Ethiopia’s new leader, a political insider, change it from the inside out? Great opening:

“On the morning of his first day of school, when he was 7, Abiy Ahmed heard his mother whispering into his ears.

‘You’re unique, my son,’ he recalled her saying. ‘You will end up in the palace. So when you go to school, bear in mind that one day you’ll be someone which will serve the nation.’

With that preposterous prophesy for a boy growing up in a house without electricity in a tiny Ethiopian village, she kissed him on his head and sent him on his way.”

5. Jon M. Chu, who directed Crazy Rich Asians, shot a short film entirely on an iPhone XMax. Which greatly impressed John Gruber:

“The democratization of professional quality video cameras for filmmaking is one of the great technical achievements of the last two decades. 20 years ago you’d have had to spend thousands of dollars on film to make a short movie that looks this good.”

6. It’s often difficult to pick a major (concentration of study) in college. Here’s a new option that will likely prove popular.

Review Week—One Consumer Product Review a Day

Everyone is saying my consumer products reviews are brilliant, but infrequent, and you dear readers, deserve better. Thus, beginning in an hour, I’m going to review one consumer product a day for seven days. Plan your week accordingly.

This overview is intended to make Review Week even more life-changing than it otherwise would be. Before we get going, scrape together $1,042.64, the cost of all seven products combined. The cool-factor (and prices probably) of these products is about to sky-rocket and you don’t want to be left on the outside looking in.

Most product reviewers write in a way that suggests our quality of life hinges on their uber-detailed, super serious deconstruction of the product at hand. I will take a different tack. Since we are not our consumer purchases, my aim is to lighten up the genre with ample doses of sarcasm. So the not-so-hidden-agenda is to poke fun at the mindless materialism perpetuated by reviewers.

According to economists, we often buy consumer goods to “signal” things about ourselves to others, look I’m well-to-do, look I’m on top of the trends, look I’m smart, look I’m an environmentalist, etc.

The following reviews are informed by my fondness for the ancient Stoics who believed status, wealth, and hedonism are impediments to tranquility or “inner joy”. But even Stoic sympathizers like myself have to buy things on occasion.

The reviews are also informed by books like True Wealth by Juliet Shor. Shor argues we should be more materialistic, by which she means more thorough and thoughtful in our purchasing of products, so as not to waste money and contribute even more to our ever expanding landfills. Shor, and other progressive social scientists, argue that we should signal, if anything, environmentally conscious, pro-social values through our consumer purchases.

As one of the 7.6 billion people on the planet, my goal is to find products that “just work”, offer good value, and last a long time. I concede, that may come across as boring, but I’m also susceptible to beautiful materials and design, as my current love interest, the new Audi A7, illustrates. In the interest of keeping the week’s price total down, I decided not to purchase and review that. Yet.

See you shortly.

 

Dear Apple

As you race to catch up to (and hopefully pass) Amazon’s and Google’s smart speakers, I have a suggestion. Find out if I’m an anomaly. Specifically, my craving for silence. If others feel similarly, you may want to tweak HomePod’s design as you continue to refine it before December’s release.

As a card carrying introvert, I have limits on how much I can interact with people, or people-like personal tech, each and every day. At a certain point, I need silence to recharge. That’s why I silenced Waze, my fav app, after a few days of use. Why would anyone choose to fill their car with an automated voice when they can easily read the turn directions in blessed silence? Similarly, my phone only “rings” when three people call me. Voicemail is one of humankind’s greatest inventions.

I was conscious of my quirky commitment to silence a few years ago, when outside of Portland, a friend of mine spoke an address into his phone before we headed out. That struck me as really odd, why not just type in the address I remember thinking. I want to save my finite number of words for people, not my iPhone or my future HomePod. And I don’t want my pocket computer or HomePod to ask anything of me or to speak to me. Just show me where to turn and stream Marvin Gaye.

So since HomePod isn’t shipping until December, use the intervening time to figure out whether “quirky” is the apt adjective for my condition or whether there is in fact an underreported “silence is golden” contingent that embraces technology, but seeks work-arounds to the growing expectation that we have to talk to our tech.