The Men Who Shame At Scapegoats

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In his newly released book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” Jon Ronson takes a few jabs at “pop psychology” writers like Malcolm Gladwell and Jonah Lehrer, at times for over-simplifying complex issues and at times for craftily including a “self-help” element in all their books. Because Ronson is smart, funny, and often self-deprecating, I’ll assume it was with a knowing wink – and perhaps even deeper irony – that he titled his own book like a self-help pamphlet, but it isn’t just a joke. Much of the book does actually focus on questions of how to help: how to help people recover their lives, recover their reputations, recover their will to live, after tragedy strikes.

What kind of tragedy? Ronson, of “The Psychopath Test” and “The Men Who Stare At Goats” fame, tackles a relatively contemporary topic: What happens when people are torn apart on social media? He especially focuses on Twitter, whose denizens most act as a righteous brigade, setting forth to right what wrongs they perceive in mob form and leaving shattered lives in their wake: shattered lives they quickly forget.

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The People You Meet

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“That’s so true,” she said.

I looked up from my Maki roll. “What is?”

She showed to me her phone, on which was a picture of fuzzy stock-art of two hands clasping over a candle with a quotation in intricate white Gothic-font text on top: “Life Truth #754: When The People Most Important In Your Life Are The Ones You Didn’t Expect.”

I said, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”

She looked surprised. “No, it’s not,” she said.

“You’re implying there’s something unusual or special about people you care about – I assume you’re thinking a best friend or a boyfriend – that it’s somehow a unique magical thing that you didn’t expect to meet them or expect them to become important to you?”

“It’s true for me.”

“No, it’s categorically true. That’s why it’s stupid to say. Like if you say, ‘Isn’t it crazy that when I lose something it’s always in the last place I look?’ Because then you didn’t look anymore.”

She had this wide-eyed expression. “Ohhhh-kayyyy,” she said, drawing it out like you would for an accosting hobo. Continue reading

Your Life is an Open Book

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Mae is a nice, intelligent California girl who is disappointed with her place in life when her friendship with an older, world-beating BFF nets her a job at The Circle: the internet mega-company that happens when Google eats Facebook and Twitter and Apple and who knows what else in the near future. Dave Eggers’s new novel takes us along with Mae, who acts as our surrogate newcomer to the Circle world and its many implications, although as the story goes on she becomes assimilated and loyal to the ideals of the Circle in a way we are clearly meant to feel uneasy about.

Enough of her smart, slightly rebellious, insecure twentysomething girl-dom remains that we always feel on her side – but she drinks enough of the Kool-Aid to highlight how social media, in this story’s world, has gone somewhat awfully wrong. Continue reading