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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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