by Sunita

Like the Weeknote post, the links post is late this week, but not absent!

Here is yet another article on how news isn’t news anymore. Yes, it’s a preoccupation of mine. I’ve been thinking about writing a post on what reading the “news” in the 21stC looks like these days. I’ve talked about it in links posts, but it deserves its own discussion. In the meantime, though, read this thoughtful Guardian article on news media consumption.

The profound experiential shift we have recently experienced is not merely down to the fact that the news is now available around the clock; CNN pioneered that, way back in 1980. Instead, it arises from the much newer feeling of actively participating in it, thanks to the interactivity of social media. If you are, say, angry about Brexit, it is possible to be angry about Brexit almost all of the time: to encounter new and enraging facts about Brexit, and opportunities to vent about Brexit, in ways that would have been unthinkable as recently as the mid-2000s. If you had fulminated then to your family and colleagues as even respected peers, novelists and philosophers now routinely fulminate on Twitter, you’d have alienated everyone you knew.

One crucial difference is that raging on Facebook, or sharing posts or voting in online polls, feels like doing something – an intervention that might, in however minuscule a way, change the outcome of the story. This sense of agency may largely be an illusion – one that serves the interests of the social media platforms to which it helps addict us – but it is undeniably powerful. And it extends even to those who themselves never comment or post. The sheer fact of being able to click, in accordance with your interests, through a bottomless supply of updates, commentary, jokes and analysis, feels like a form of participation in the news, utterly unlike passively consuming the same headlines repeated through the day on CNN or the BBC.

I think that one of the reasons we feel as if tweeting and sharing and so on is “doing something” is that activism and protest have been transformed by the availability of social media. There’s no question that coordination is easier with online tools. But limiting our participation to online forums rather and foregoing the old-fashioned, effortful methods of physically showing up to a meeting or public gathering (for those of us who have that option; not everyone does) does not do much to advance collective action goals. Yes, the Arab Spring was aided by Twitter. But did you know that the most common ways of communicating information during those protests were still through voice and text? And, for all of us, there is evidence that reacting and venting on social media about supposedly newsworthy events makes us feel worse about the world, not better.

This is a fascinating conversation about the economic and psychic issues surrounding the process of getting rid of stuff. I was most struck by this observation:

Discards occupy an entirely different emotional ecosystem, especially in developed countries where objects are donated and dropped-off, rather than sold. When a consumer donates something, or drops it into a blue bin, they typically have a reasonable expectation that the objects will be re-used or repurposed in a way conforming to their values – and they have some agency in the decision (there are many charities). When you combine that expectation with the powerful identity associations attached to personal property, the outcomes can be explosive — especially when donated and dropped-off objects are handled in ways that don’t meet the donor’s expectations.

Over the past few years we’ve inherited family possessions from both sides and while we value them, we aren’t tchotchke people so they have changed both the appearance and the feel of our living spaces. I told TheHusband after the most recent round that I feel somewhat burdened by the responsibilities of inheritance, even though I don’t at all regret taking them on. The tradition of passing on heirlooms and the like is very much a cultural construction. An important one, to be sure, but it comes with a lot of unexamined assumptions and consequences.

Here is a must-read piece both for its content (which is important) and the fact that it went viral as a blog post after being rejected as “too depressing” by the obvious media outlets. Given we’re heading into swimming and beach weather, it’s worth thinking about how we can best recognize distress in water:

The Instinctive Drowning Response, so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect it to. When someone is drowning there is very little splashing, and no waving or yelling or calling for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents). Of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In 10 percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening.

Drowning does not look like drowning.

Do read the whole thing. Like the father in the story, I tend to get my ideas from movies. Time to reprogram that cognitive shortcut.

And finally, I’m sure most of you have seen this, but I just came across Janet Webb’s lovely post on how romance novels helped her cope with her beloved mother’s death:

The first place I visited after her funeral, when all the family disappeared and I was alone in her empty house, was Sudbury’s Bay Used Books, the largest used book store in Northern Ontario. It has millions of books and a fabulous romance section. I had a visceral need to stock up on historical romance. I craved a familiar formula – a reliable, well-loved author and a title I hadn’t read. I bought The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband by Julia Quinn, Governess Gone Rogue by Laura Lee Guhrke and Counting on a Countessby Eva Leigh. I couldn’t read them – nay, inhale them – fast enough! Almost two months later, I’m back to my more catholic reading habits but I wanted to explore what makes romance reading a reliable and heart-healing prescription.

Janet is someone I’ve known for years and was fortunate enough to spend time with when she lived in Northern California. She introduced me to a fabulous UBS in Marin County and also sent me romances. And took me to Oakland A’s games! If you can’t tell, she’s one of the kindest and most generous people I know. And I know what she means about romance novels as healing; I read a lot of familiar favorites after my father died.

Janet, I miss our get-togethers and I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing a parent at any age is difficult and I’m so glad you can turn to a pastime you shared with her.