Brooks and Krugman

Bobo has a question in “Intimacy for the Avoidant:”  What is phone addiction doing to friendship?  Instead of “gemli” from Boston let’s have “Sally Gschwend” from Uznach, Switzerland respond to Bobo’s question with one of her own:  “Has David Brooks switched over to pop psychology because he can’t bear to talk about his beloved GOP?”  Prof. Krugman, in “What About the Planet?,” also has a question:  Why is the media not raising climate change as part of the presidential race?  Probably because that would involve covering actual policy positions instead of a horse race.  Here’s Bobo:

Over the past generation there seems to have been a decline in the number of high-quality friendships.

In 1985, most Americans told pollsters that they had about three confidants, people with whom they could share everything. Today, the majority of people say they have about two. In 1985, 10 percent of Americans said they had no one to fully confide in, but by the start of this century 25 percent of Americans said that.

All of this has left people wondering if technology is making us lonelier. Instead of going over to the neighbor’s house, are we sitting at home depressingly surfing everybody else’s perfect lives on Facebook?

Over the past decade, the best research has suggested that no, technology and social media are not making us lonelier. These things are tools. It’s what you bring to Facebook that matters. Socially engaged people use it to further engage; lonely people use it to mask loneliness.

As Stephen Marche put it in The Atlantic in 2012, “Using social media doesn’t create new social networks; it just transfers established networks from one platform to another.”

But recently, people’s views of social media have grown a bit darker. That’s because we seem to be hitting some sort of saturation level. Being online isn’t just something we do. It has become who we are, transforming the very nature of the self.

Earlier this year, Jacob Weisberg had a fine essay in The New York Review of Books reporting that, according to a British study, we check our phones on average 221 times a day — about every 4.3 minutes.

A decade ago almost no one had a smartphone. Now the average American spends five and half hours a day with digital media, and the young spend far more time. A study of female students at Baylor University found that they spent 10 hours a day on their phones.

A lot of this traffic is driven by the fear of missing out. Somebody may be posting something on Snapchat that you’d like to know about, so you’d better constantly be checking. The traffic is also driven by what the industry executives call “captology.” The apps generate small habitual behaviors, like swiping right or liking a post, that generate ephemeral dopamine bursts. Any second that you’re feeling bored, lonely or anxious, you feel this deep hunger to open an app and get that burst.

Last month, Andrew Sullivan published a moving and much-discussedessay in New York magazine titled “I Used to Be a Human Being” about what it’s like to have your soul hollowed by the web.

“By rapidly substituting virtual reality for reality,” Sullivan wrote, “we are diminishing the scope of [intimate] interaction even as we multiply the number of people with whom we interact. We remove or drastically filter all the information we might get by being with another person. We reduce them to some outlines — a Facebook ‘friend,’ an Instagram photo, a text message — in a controlled and sequestered world that exists largely free of the sudden eruptions or encumbrances of actual human interaction. We become each other’s ‘contacts,’ efficient shadows of ourselves.”

At saturation level, social media reduces the amount of time people spend in uninterrupted solitude, the time when people can excavate and process their internal states. It encourages social multitasking: You’re with the people you’re with, but you’re also monitoring the six billion other people who might be communicating something more interesting from far away. It flattens the range of emotional experiences.

As Louis C.K. put it in a TV appearance, “You never feel completely sad or completely happy. You just feel kinda satisfied with your products. And then you die.”

Perhaps phone addiction is making it harder to be the sort of person who is good at deep friendship. In lives that are already crowded and stressful, it’s easier to let banter crowd out emotional presence. There are a thousand ways online to divert with a joke or a happy face emoticon. You can have a day of happy touch points without any of the scary revelations, or the boring, awkward or uncontrollable moments that constitute actual intimacy.

When Montaigne was describing the accumulating intimacy he enjoyed with his best friend, he described an emotional interaction that was full and progressive: “It was not one special consideration, nor two, nor three, nor four, nor a thousand; it was some mysterious quintessence of all this mixture which possessed itself of my will and led it to plunge and lose itself in his; which possessed his whole will and led it, with a similar hunger, and a like impulse, to plunge and lose itself in mine.”

When we’re addicted to online life, every moment is fun and diverting, but the whole thing is profoundly unsatisfying. I guess a modern version of heroism is regaining control of social impulses, saying no to a thousand shallow contacts for the sake of a few daring plunges.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Our two major political parties are at odds on many issues, but nowhere is the gap bigger or more consequential than on climate.

If Hillary Clinton wins, she will move forward with the Obama administration’s combination of domestic clean-energy policies and international negotiation — a one-two punch that offers some hope of reining in greenhouse gas emissions before climate change turns into climate catastrophe.

If Donald Trump wins, the paranoid style in climate politics — the belief that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a vast international conspiracy of scientists — will become official doctrine, and catastrophe will become all but inevitable.

So why does the media seem so determined to ignore this issue? Why, in particular, does it almost seem as if there’s a rule against bringing it up in debates?

Before I get there, a brief summary of the policy divide.

It’s strange how little credit the Obama administration gets for its environmental policies.

Everyone has heard about how loan guarantees to one solar-energy company, Solyndra, went sour — at a cost, by the way, that amounted to only a bit more than half the amount Mr. Trump personally lost in just one year thanks to bad business decisions. Few people, by contrast, have heard about the green energy revolution that the administration’s loans and other policy support helped promote, with plunging prices and soaring consumption of solar and wind power.

Nor have many heard about the administration’s tightening of fuel efficiency standards, especially for trucks and buses, which in itself is one of the most significant environmental moves in decades.

And if Mrs. Clinton wins, it’s more or less certain that the biggest moves yet — the Clean Power Plan, which would regulate emissions from power plants, and the Paris climate agreement, which commits all of the world’s major economies to make significant emission cuts — will become reality.

Meanwhile, there’s Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly called climate change a hoax and has suggested that it was invented by China to hurt U.S. competitiveness. I wish I could say that this puts him outside the mainstream of his party, but it doesn’t.

So there is a huge, incredibly consequential divide on climate policy. Not only is there a vast gap between the parties and their candidates, but this gap arguably matters more for the future than any of their other disagreements. So why don’t we hear more about it?

I’m not saying that there has been no reporting on the partisan climate divide, but there has been nothing like, say, the drumbeat of stories about Mrs. Clinton’s email server. And it’s really stunning that in the three nationally televised forums we’ve had so far — the “commander inchief” forum involving Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump, the first presidential debate and the vice-presidential debate — the moderators have asked not a single question about climate.

This was especially striking in Tuesday’s debate.

Somehow Elaine Quijano, the moderator, found time for not one but two questions inspired by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget — an organization concerned that despite relatively low budget deficits now and extremely low borrowing costs, the federal government may face fiscal problems a couple of decades down the line. There may be something to this, although not as much as deficit scolds claim (and Ms. Quijano managed to suggest that Mrs. Clinton’s proposals, which are fully paid for, are no better than Mr. Trump’s multitrillion-dollar debt blowout).

But if we’re worried about the longer-term implications of current policies, the buildup of greenhouse gases is a much bigger deal than the accumulation of low-interest debt. It’s bizarre to talk about the latter but not the former.

And this blind spot matters a lot. Polling suggests that millennial voters, in particular, care a lot about environmental protection and renewable energy. But it also suggests that more than 40 percent of young voters believe that there is no difference between the candidates on these issues.

Yes, I know, people should be paying more attention — but this nonetheless tells us how easy it is for voters who rely on TV news or don’t read stories deep inside the paper to miss what should be a central issue in this campaign.

The good news is that there are still two debates to go, offering the opportunity to make some amends.

It’s time to end the blackout on climate change as an issue. It needs to be front and center — and questions must be accompanied by real-time fact-checking, not relegated to the limbo of he-said-she-said, because this is one of the issues where the truth often gets lost in a blizzard of lies.

There is, quite simply, no other issue this important, and letting it slide would be almost criminally irresponsible.

A small personal note — Hurricane Matthew is scheduled to visit Savannah tonight.  We’re likely to lose power, and during the last storm, which wasn’t as severe as Matthew some people in town were without power for almost 3 days.  If that happens I’ll do a post (or several posts) of what I missed when the lights were out.  Keep your fingers crossed for us, please.

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2 Responses to “Brooks and Krugman”

  1. Russian Sage Says:

    Not enough voters read “The Grape of Wrath”

    Voters are trained to buy into one or two slogans.

    Anything that smells of science and progress is anathema.

    Renewable energy needs to be connected to job growth. Solar and wind jobs handily outpaced fossil fuel which of course contracted.

    Lobbying by Exxon. Despite a glut due to fracking oil money is still important in politics. Even with the increases in fossil fuel production during the Obama administration it is too easy for Murdoch’s henchmen to brainwash listeners.

    Loss of jobs in Appalachia is defined by Republicans with EPA and renewable energy. Bankrupt subsidiaries leaving the cleanup tothe government while investors make a fortune. Climate change is the anti-Christ.

    Change is scary.

    Contamination of water supply is a local problem in the news reports. Ain’t we got a water filter hun? Flint? No I live in “any city”.

  2. edtracey Says:

    Be safe, Marion!

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