Y7 Humanities MAY 2018 | ISSUE 5
NO MORE QUARRELS Inside we teach you how to avoid misunderstandings when asking questions.
AVOID BAD PARTNERS It's your time to SHINE!
FACEBOOKS WAR ON TROLLS In light of anti-bullying campaigns and an increase in teenage suicides, Facebook issues a crackdown on cyber-bullying!
GUADELOUPE ISLAND TOURISM - ALYSE RABOFF
This Month’s Content: It’s Time to Supercharge Your Life! Using Accountability to Make Progress Why Technology is Triggering Anxiety How to Avoid Misunderstandings When Asking Questions 5 Ways to Forgive People (eventhose who don’t appologize) Stop Choosing Bad Partners A Phsychologist Breaks Down Top Leadership Obstacles and How to Address Them Open-Plan Offices Create Extra Stress for Women, Say Scientists Jeff Bezos Banned PowerPoint in Meetings. His Replacement is Brilliant Good News for Prime Members! You Can Now Get Discounts on Whole Foods Products! Facebook Continues to Remove Speech! Aliens May Well Exist in a Parallel Universe, New Studies Find Twitter Will Begin Hiding All Tweets From Suspect Accounts This is Ajit Pai, Nemesis of Net Neutrality The Science Behind the Insane Popularity of “React” Videos on YouTube What is Ramadan?
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Using Accountability to Make Progress My name is Stever Robbins, and I am self-employed. As a self-employed doobie, I’m my own boss. There’s no one but me to hold me accountable for getting the right things done at the right times. Unfortunately, my boss is a really nice guy. Too nice. He’s very understanding. Too understanding. Multiple responsibilities sometimes collide. For example, someone on the internet is wrong, and I simply must correct them, instead of writing the client proposal that’s due. There goes an hour of my day, and my boss, darn him, doesn’t say a word. Over the years, I’ve tried setting appointments with myself. I break them. I’ve tried rewarding myself with Oreo Ice Cream cake. It melted. I even tried punishments, only to discover that being covered in olive oil and tickled with Ostrich feathers was actually… kinda hot.
What Works is People Throughout all the procrastination, the delays, the distractions, and the interruptions, I’ve noticed one thing that happens over and over: people take precedence. When I’m interrupted, I generally drop what I’m doing to take care of the interruption. Why? Because the interruption almost always comes from a ‘people.’ When there’s a two-hour time block on my schedule for a meeting with myself to work on an important project, and in comes a request for a meeting that preempts it, I take the incoming meeting. Why? Because it’s a people. (Yes. The singular ‘people.’) It’s known that our brains are hard-wired to recognize human faces. We are also hard-wired to behave in ways that make society work. We reciprocate when people give us gifts, we learn through imitation, and we click the Like button when we see a little picture of our friend next to an advertisement for treating grease stains. Maybe, just maybe, we are also hardwired to fulfill social obligations in a way that’s more powerful than willpower.
Use People for Hourly Accountability If you want to have a phenomenally productive day, you can engage other people to make it happen. There’s a really simple format. Make some friends. Get somewhere between three and ten of them to join you for a super-productive day. Then get a group conference line. I use Uberconference.com. At the same time each hour, call into the conference line, and have each of you share what you did the previous hour, and what you plan to do the next hour. Then hop off the line and go do it. There should be no judgment during the checkins. No brainstorming what to do differently if someone didn’t meet their last hour’s goal. Just be present and accountable. Live. I call these Do-It Days and run them for free several times a year.
Use People for Punishment/Reward Accountability You can also engage your people in helping you with rewards and punishments. Rewards and punishments didn’t work for me because I did them alone. Sure, I had Oreo Ice Cream Cake, olive oil, and feathers to motivate me. But without another people there, it was way too easy to skimp on the rewards and punishments. Witnesses would have made a difference. That’s where Stickk.com comes in. It’s a website developed by behavioral finance geeks. With Stickk, you set a goal, and you establish a financial commitment. For example, if you don’t stick to your goal, you pledge to donate $500 to a cause you consider truly horrible, like a cause that goes directly against
your values. For example, a commitment contract might be “I will work out three times a week for the next six weeks or donate $500 to the People’s Liberation Front For The Elimination of Oreo Ice Cream Cake.” As you can imagine, I’m highly motivated to not donate that $500. But Stickk adds one more diabolical element. You designate a human being to referee your commitment. Not only do you get motivation from the terrible rewards and punishments, but now you have Another Human Being Who Sees Your Failure. You better believe it’s motivating! Rewards and punishments work, and they work even better when you get a people involved.
Use People to Monitor Your Progress You can also engage people in helping you take regular actions. In the episode on keeping resolutions, I share a technique by executive coach Andrew Thorn, presented by Marshall Goldsmith, in how to use daily check-ins with an accountabilibuddy. You share your major goals with each other. Then you choose measurements that let you know you’re making progress towards that goal. If your goal is to write a book, you might set a daily goal of writing at least 500 words. Then you do a rapid check-in with your buddy every day and run through your list of measurements, scoring yourself on whether you met each one. I do this daily with my accountabilibuddy Timmy, who I’ve written about before. You simply serve as a witness for each others’ goals. No fixing things, judging, or rewards are needed. Just knowing that someone is aware of your successes and your failures pushes you to Make Progress on What’s Important. When it comes to fighting the monsters of procrastination, people are your secret weapon. You can get a people to help you power through projects on a Do-It Day. You can use Stickk.com and use a people to be part of your rewards and punishments (it will make the olive oil and feathers a lot more fun). And you can use a people to swap daily accountability on what’s most important for you. This is a lot to cover in one episode, so you can find links to detailed episodes about these different techniques at GetItDoneGuy.com/accountable. And now that I’ve said GetItDoneGuy.com/ accountable, and I know that people are counting on that link working, I’m going to go put that page together, pronto.
Why Technology is Triggering Anxiety By Dana Riff
Studies, magazine articles, and cultural rumblings tell us that technology is making us more anxious. A new study in the journal Emotion of over 1 million American high school students found that teens who spend more time on screens and less time on non-screen activities like face-to-face socializing, exercise, or homework were psychologically worse off. What’s more, the study found that when kids reported a shift to more screen-based activities, a decline in happiness followed, implying a cause-andeffect relationship. But how exactly does this happen? What is the nitty-gritty of technology leading to anxiety? With the caveat that these are my professional speculations, not the results of an actual study, here are five big reasons.
5 Links Between Technology and Anxiety 1. Technology insulates us. 2. Technology leads to avoidance. 3. On-screen vs. face-to-face communication are different. 4. Social media is public judgment. 5. “Compare and despair.”
Let’s explore each in more detail below.
Reason #1: Technology insulates us from small uncertainties but leaves us vulnerable to the biggies. Uncertainty is the root of anxiety: “What’s going to happen?” “What do they think of me?” “What if this goes badly?” And in some ways, technology takes away uncertainty. Smartphones allow us to control our world and our consumption like never before. We can stay immersed in a controlled world of our choosing for long stretches. We can be guided by Google Maps, check out reviews to preview activities, products, or destinations, look at menus ahead of time, click to see exactly who’s on the invitation guest list. But as a result, we log less time and less practice spent navigating an uncertain world. You’d think that taking away uncertainty would make us less anxious. But what’s happened is that instead, technology has taken away how much experience we gain in handling uncertainty. Simultaneously, the world has become more uncertain for the big things like forging a career and finding love. Secure employment is quickly becoming a thing of the past in the new gig economy. And the zillions of options available on online dating services make us anxious about whether or not we’ve truly found “the one” or if there’s a better match a swipe away. Therefore, combine a lack of experience dealing with small uncertainties with an expansion of big uncertainties, and it’s no wonder we feel anxious.
Reason #2: Technology allows us to avoid people (and the negative emotions that go with people). Technology makes our lives easier and more more convenient, but the other side of that coin is that technology allows us to avoid people. I saw an ad on the subway for a food delivery service: “Satisfy Your Craving for Zero Human Contact.” We all have moments of people hating, many of them totally justified, but when people-avoidance becomes a default, we end up with a dearth of experience. One, we don’t have as much information about what is likely to happen, so we inevitably think things will turn out worse than they actually do. Two, when we avoid people, our confidence is shaky. We’re not sure how to handle things, not sure that we’re capable, and that in turn makes us avoid them more. But it’s not just avoiding people, it’s avoiding the uncomfortable emotions that come with interacting with people: awkwardness, anxiety, boredom, self-consciousness. Practices like ghosting are the result of bad manners and conflict avoidance. But all the negative emotion you forego ends up dumped on the other person. It’s the worst kind of outsourcing.
Reason #3: On-screen communication is really different from face-to-face. I’m dating myself here, but remember when email first became popular (or for that matter, when the internet had a White Pages?) Experts in the early 1990s predicted we’d all be sipping mai tais on a beach with the time we saved using this new thing called electronic mail. But what’s happened in practice is that all the methods of communicating via a screen—email, texting, and posting to social media—actually buys us time. Here’s what I mean: on-screen communication allows time to compose, edit, and perfect, whereas faceto-face communication (or even calling someone—that thing in our jeans pockets is called a phone after all) happens in real-time. Again, it’s additive. When we’re accustomed to taking our time to think of exactly what we want to say, it’s much harder to do it face-to-face and on the fly. And of course, when there’s less face-to-face experience to draw on, we stay shaky and uncertain, which in turn makes us anxious.
Reason #4: Social media is judgment in public. No matter the platform, likes and followers are enumerated and everyone can see the comments. Public adoration or public shaming happens in front of everyone. And for teens and young adults still figuring out their identity and moral compass, managing social media can feel like a social crisis. Social anxiety is a fear of being revealed and judged as somehow deficient. And social media pushes all those buttons perfectly. For many, the ability to curate and control what goes out on social media reduces our anxiety in the short-term. But long-term, all the impression management that goes into curation and filtering can make us feel like any approval we get is more for our “brand” and less for us as an authentic human. The result? The gap increases between what we project and who we actually are, therefore increasing our anxiety about being revealed.
Reason #5: “Compare and despair.” Finally, by now we all know that social media is the highlight reel and that no one posts about not being able to afford the electric bill or getting reamed out by the boss. We know the endless parade of pictures of tropical vacations and perfect families is a carefully curated show. But it’s hard not to compare and end up feeling inadequate or defective, which, again, is the heart of social anxiety. All in all, just like Homer Simpson says of beer, technology is the cause and solution to all of life’s problems. Social media does bring us together, but at the same time, can tear us apart inside. Technology makes our lives more certain, convenient, and entertaining, but then we lose out on learning how to cope with uncertainty, inconvenience, and boredom. The solution? Remember the saying about the mind being a wonderful servant but a terrible master? Same goes for technology. Ironically, a number of excellent online interventions are available for social anxiety, from apps to teletherapy. And according to the research, they work. Overall, the tide is turning. People are craving real connection. So don’t toss your smartphone, but make room for people. Make room for face-to-face conversation. For instance, rather than automatically emailing your coworker in the next room, walk over and talk. In addition to using technology for all the good it provides, make sure you’re still interacting with your fellow humans. The date the iPhone debuted into our lives will still be an important date, but it won’t be one that will live in infamy.
How to Avoid Misunderstandings When Asking Questions Jeannie O’Hannon When asking or answering questions, make your underlying assumptions and motives explicit. You’ll get and give answers more quickly, and avoid all kinds of potential emotional landmines.
Today, we’re going to be talking about clear communication. Specifically, questions. It’s been a rough day at Green Growing Things, Bernice’s little plant shop, which specializes in hard-to-find species like the carnivorous Audrey IIs. The store is in the running for first place in the Guinness Book of World Records for healthiest Audrey IIs raised with no inadvertent missing persons reports. The inspection team is due to arrive in just a few minutes. Bernice is beside herself checking last-minute details. “Europa!” she screams, “Why did you water the Audrey IIs so much?” Europa, who is usually the cashier and not the plant caretaker, is puzzled. “What are you talking about?” “The entire watering can is empty! How could you be so careless?” responds Bernice. As you can imagine, the conversation devolves from there.
We don’t ask what we mean I’ve noticed over the last several years that often we—and by “we,” I mean, almost everyone, including me!—don’t ask what we really want to know. What Bernice is actually concerned about is whether the Audrey IIs have been over-watered. But she didn’t ask that. Instead, she asked Europa’s reason for watering the plants so much. While sometimes, it might be obvious what she really wants to know, an awful lot of the time it actually isn’t.
We have hidden context When we ask a question, we have a mental context for the question. We know some things. We don’t know others. We have certain goals. And all of that is invisible to the person we’re asking. It’s rather astonishing that any successful communication happens, ever. Bernice’s goal is to have healthy plants. As it happens, the only information she has is a big watering can that’s totally empty, sitting next to the Audrey II holding pens. She has assumed that the can was full, and that all the water was used to water the plants.
Check your assumptions Before you ask a question, especially if you’re upset, do a quick mental inventory. Ask “what’s my real concern?” and see if you can make your question directly reflect what you need to know. Ask “what’s the evidence that prompted my question?” and include that, too, if it makes sense. Instead of “Why did you water the Audrey IIs so much?” Bernice’s real concern is whether they’re overwatered. She can ask instead, “I’m concerned that we keep the plants healthy. I saw the empty watering can and want to know if it’s possible you over-watered the plants?” She incorporates her goal (healthy plants), what she knows (there’s an empty watering can), and her real question (whether the plants
have been over-watered).
Some other examples of questions we might ask, and the real question we want answered: • “How is the inventory coming along?” becomes “I haven’t seen the inventory status report yet. Are we on track
to get it done by our month-end deadline?”
• “Have you called your prospect, yet?” becomes “I haven’t heard about Prospect X, so I don’t know our revenue
status. Are we on track to meet our sales goals?”
A question that asks what you really want to know, and that makes it clear what evidence (or lack of evidence) is triggering the question, has a much greater chance of getting the answer you actually need. A question with context is better than a question all by its lonesome.
We don’t answer what we’re asked A flip side of the same issue is that we often don’t answer the question we’re asked. Sometimes, it’s because we’re trying to answer what we think they really mean, other times, it’s because we’re just lazy. Europa asks Bernice, “What’s the address for our meeting with the Guinness team?” Bernice answers, “I’m pretty sure it’s in the calendar invite.” Bernice has just added an additional back-and-forth to the exchange. She could have looked in the calendar invite herself (after all, she’s going to need the address too) and sent it to Europa. Of course, Bernice may have been subtly trying to train Europa to check the calendar invite. She can just say that: “The address is 1010 Anytown Lane. I’m pretty sure it’s in the calendar invite. If you didn’t check there, it would save us both time if you could look there first next time.” What Bernice doesn’t know is that Europa did check the invite, but the calendar program had screwed up the address field making it unreadable. By answering the question as it was asked, everyone has the answer. By acknowledging that she didn’t know if Europa had checked the calendar invite or not, and then making the retraining comment explicit, all the assumptions and motives are on the table. Europa can simply reply, “Thanks! My calendar invite wasn’t readable, and of course I’ll check that first next time.” On the way to Anytown Lane, Bernice and Europa reviewed their earlier exchange. Their conflict had come from differing knowledge. Bernice assumed the watering can had been full and the plants overwatered. Nope. Europa had only filled it halfway, and the plants were fine. Knowing both sides, Europa understood Bernice’s concern, and Bernice knew to check her assumptions next time. They arrived for the Guinness meeting with time to spare. The plants were so healthy and happy that Green Growing Things was awarded the world record. Communication can be tricky. When it comes to asking questions, we know why we’re asking and what’s triggering us to ask. The person we’re talking with doesn’t, however. By making your experience explicit and asking your real question, you’re more likely to get the response you want, with a minimum of drama. And when answering others’ questions, answer the question they asked, and then go on to address what you believe may have been the real question behind the question.
5 Ways to Forgive People (Even Those Who Don’t Apologize) Jennie O’Hannon Studies show people who forgive have less depression, use less medicine, have more energy, and are more satisfied with life. All that sounds appealing, but forgiveness can be hard, especially when a transgressor doesn’t apologize. This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen weighs in on how to let go of old hurts.
Forgiveness is one of the first lessons we learn: a kid takes our sand toys; the kid’s parent makes him give them back and say sorry. What are we supposed to say next? All together now: “It’s okay.” But as life moves along, transgressions get bigger and more complicated. Eventually, forgiveness becomes analogous to working out every day: it’s ideal, it’s healthy, and it sounds great in concept, but it’s really hard to pull off in real life. Before we get too far, let’s define what we’re talking about.
What exactly is forgiveness? Essentially, it’s a deliberate decision to release feelings of anger, resentment, or vengeance toward someone who has hurt you. The opposite, unforgiveness, is a roiling mix of resentment, bitterness, hostility, hatred, anger, and fear. It’s a mindset, but it also has physiological consequences such as immune suppression and cardiovascular stress. Unforgiveness isn’t pleasant, so we try to find ways to reduce it. We may dig deep into denial, get revenge through retaliation, pursue justice through legal means, create a convoluted story to explain what happened, or simply move on with life. Or, we can forgive. Forgiveness is pretty great. A 2009 study found that people with higher forgiveness scores used less medicine, had better sleep quality, were less depressed, had more energy, and enjoyed better cardiovascular health and greater life satisfaction. Not bad. But forgiveness can be a hard sell. It can feel as if forgiving means excusing the wrongdoing or forgetting it ever happened. Plus, Western culture promotes revenge much more than forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t play well on TV and beef makes for much better publicity than when we all get along. But in your own life, beef isn’t so pleasant. It hardens your heart. It can keep you stuck and bitter. Plus, unforgiveness can inch you along the path of becoming a transgressor yourself. For example, a study out of the University of Malaga in Spain found that among secondary school students who were victims of cyberbullying, those who scored higher in forgiveness were much less likely to become cyberbullies themselves. So what to do? Getting hurt by others is an inevitable part of life; we’ll call that pain. But holding a grudge, ruminating on past offenses, or otherwise not forgiving? We’ll call that suffering. And suffering is optional. Ultimately, forgiveness is a decision. There is choice involved. And don’t let anyone, including me, tell
you when to make the choice. You can forgive whenever you’re ready, or never. But this week, by request from two separate listeners, J in Boston and Mark in Italy, we’ll tackle how to forgive, especially people who don’t apologize. Remember, only you can decide when and how to release those feelings, but these five things can help you along.
5 Ways to Forgive People 1. Make Use of Time 2. Practice Self-efficacy 3. Follow a Role Model 4. Try a Test Run 5. Stand Up For Yourself
Let’s explore each a little further.
Forgiveness Tip #1: Time It’s been said that time heals all wounds, but a study in the journal Emotion found something much more specific. The researchers actually modeled the mathematical function between time and forgiveness. I’m willing to bet that you’re okay with a spoiler on this one, so here you go: by three months after a transgression, average forgiveness increases by two log-odds units. I’m not sure what that means either, but at least “time heals all wounds” now has an algorithm to back it up. More importantly, the researchers found that forgiveness went along with valuing one’s relationship with the offender. In short, if the person who did you wrong has a place in your life, make it a goal to forgive, but give yourself time. Time won’t magically confer forgiveness, but it’s a solid foundation from which to do the work of forgiving.
Forgiveness Tip #2: Practice Self-efficacy Over the course of his career, superstar psychologist Albert Bandura has shown that the most consistent predictor of good health over a lifetime is something called self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the technical term for believing in yourself. It’s the assumption that you can influence what happens in your life. Turns out self-efficacy is essential for forgiveness as well. Letting go may seem passive, but it turns out it’s a very active, deliberate decision. Turning a tragedy into an achievement is rooted in a belief that you play a role in your own life.
Forgiveness Tip #3: Follow a Role Model Sometimes we need someone to show us how it’s done. We need to see a model of forgiveness to inspire humility or compassion. The world’s religions model forgiveness: the three Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—each model God forgiving humanity. Buddhists have the concepts of lovingkindness and letting go of attachment, in this case, attachment to a past they wish was different. In Hinduism, forgiveness is
often listed among the cardinal virtues. But you don’t have to be religious to find a role model for forgiveness. Extraordinary examples of forgiveness can be found in the news, from an Amish community’s forgiveness of a school shooter to Tutsi survivors of the Rwandan genocide forgiving Hutus who killed their loved ones. Whether you find your model in the world’s religions or an inspiring story from the other side of the world or your own neighborhood, a real-life model of forgiveness gives you something to aspire to.
Forgiveness Tip #4: Try a Test Run Forgiveness doesn’t suddenly turn on like a light switch. Instead it’s a process. And just like a good workout, forgiveness is enhanced by a warmup routine. Therefore, sometimes a test run can limber us up and get us ready. Here are three ideas: one is to bring to mind a previous instance in which you forgave someone. Remember not only what happened, but also how the process of forgiveness felt emotionally and physiologically in your body. Remember how it felt to let go. Another is to close your eyes and visualize a scene in which you forgive the person who has wronged you—again, the more vivid you can make this scene, both in terms of sensory detail and how it feels in your body, the more effective it can be. And a third way is to write a letter granting forgiveness. This letter doesn’t get sent; it’s just for your benefit. But there’s something about processing an emotion to the point where it can be turned into language that helps move the forgiveness process along.
Forgiveness Tip #5: Stand Up For Yourself The past is in the past. But there are things you can do going forward to make forgiving future transgressions easier. A study out of the University of Calgary found that what the researchers called “confrontation coping” in the moment, which can be as simple as telling the person not to treat you that way, hangs together with future signifiers of forgiveness, like agreeing with the statements, “I wish good things to happen to the perpetrator,” “When I see the perpetrator, I feel at peace,” or simply, “I forgave the perpetrator.” In short, standing up for yourself in the moment makes forgiveness easier and more likely later. What’s the alternative to standing up for yourself? Something I talk a lot about on the podcast: our old frenemy avoidance. Avoidance is exactly what it sounds like—avoiding the issue, staying away, or not engaging, and it maintains pretty much every kind of mental health problem there is. Unforgiveness is no exception. Never talking about the past, pretending a transgression didn’t happen, or cutting the person out of your life—all these forms of avoidance are a double-edged sword. Sometimes, it’s smart. Sometimes it is best to cut poisonous, abusive people out of your life. But it also comes with a price. The same University of Calgary study found that, when it comes to forgiveness, avoidance can lead to emotional exhaustion and is more likely to make you retaliate and hold that grudge even longer.
All in all, forgiveness is work. It takes time. And it’s a choice. The sense of strength and defiance you get from unforgiveness can be motivating and energizing. So if you’re not yet ready to give that up, that’s totally fine. But if you’re holding a grudge and can’t even remember what you’re angry about, or you’re just tired of holding on to pain and bitterness, think about letting go.
How to Forgive People Who Don’t Apologize Our listeners J and Mark asked specifically about how to forgive individuals who don’t apologize. This is a tough one. One way to look at it is this: failing to apologize means everything about them and nothing about you. As Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Same thing goes for apologizing. Most often, people who don’t apologize think apology is a sign of weakness that makes them vulnerable and puts them at risk. They cover this with bravado and stubborness, but you can trust that it’s a show, and a sad one, at that. With some work and perspective, you can cultivate a sense of compassion for someone who is too weak or fearful to admit they were wrong. Why else should you forgive someone who isn’t sorry or isn’t strong enough to express it? Consider this: forgiveness isn’t for them. It’s for you. You can choose to forgive not because they deserve forgiveness, or because they expressed remorse, but because you deserve the peace of mind forgiveness brings. Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and a survivor of multiple concentration camps during the Holocaust. In his classic 1959 book, Man’s Search for Meaning,he wrote that even in the most dehumanized and brutal of settings, life has meaning. Even suffering has meaning. He wrote, “What is to give light must endure burning.” So let go of pain and bitterness, especially when holding on to those emotions costs you more than it buys you. Don’t wait for an apology that may never come—that gives your transgressor the power to end your pain. Remember, if you’ve endured a burning, you get to choose when to give the light.
Stop Choosing Bad Partners! Eric Hannity Every one of us has a bad relationship tale to tell—the frog or two scattered among the princes and princesses. There was the guy who did his business with the bathroom door open. Or the girl who would lick utensils clean and put them back in the drawer. There was the one who split every joint purchase down to the penny. And the one who thought inflatable furniture was perfectly sufficient. Again, everyone chooses a frog once in awhile. But sometimes we find ourselves in a pattern: a string of partners that go beyond gross or thoughtless and cross the line into unhealthy or even downright toxic. At some point, we may realize we’ve dated a string of frogs—with the result of decimating our selfesteem and leaving us guilty, afraid, or numb. But worst of all, given the chance to start over, too often, we pick another frog. The partners we feel chemistry with are the ones who are all wrong for us. We’re attracted to their confidence, their laidback cool, or their financial success. But over time, what we thought was confidence emerges as control, the attitude we thought was laid back degenerates into sloth, and the money turns out to be no consolation for relentless greed. Why is our mate selector broken? And can it be fixed? This week, by request from listener Amanda, we’ll tackle the question of why we choose people who are wrong for us and how to stop. First, why do we do this to ourselves? Consider two reasons.
Reason #1: We seek out consistency. There’s a saying among therapists: People would rather be consistent than happy. If you grew up with a sense of your own inherent worth and came to learn that people are generally kind, trustworthy, and well-meaning, you’ll likely choose a partner consistent with that upbringing. It’s what you’re used to. It feels normal By contrast, if you grew up surrounded by chaos, dysfunction, perfectionism, or emotional distance, that’s what feels like home. If we’ve learned we are a troublemaker, merely decorative, or need to throw a tantrum to get noticed, we’ll naturally gravitate toward those attitudes in a partner. On a deeper level, if we believe we’re not good enough, will never amount to anything, or are worthless, we choose partners who make us feel the same way. Again, it feels normal. Now, this is not to say you deserve a partner who treats you like dirt just because you chose him or her. Everyone deserves to be safe and respected. But if drama, hostility, or indifference feel normal, it’s time for a new normal.
Reason #2: Our brains see bad partners as a do-over. Why do we put ourselves in the same position again and again? We see another bad relationship as a chance to rehabilitate, to fix. We want to right the wrong. Kids who grow up in the midst of turmoil or neglect often come out the other side thinking it was their fault. It’s simply how brains work—we are wired to be self-referential. When we see a group of kids
whispering to each other, we assume itâ€™s about us. Likewise, when we see conflict and unhappiness all around us, we assume weâ€™re the reason. It must be our fault.
But the flip side of fault is control. If it was our fault, we must also be able to fix it. So we pick an unhealthy partner and try for a do-over. But there’s more: the power dynamic inherent in thinking we’re in a position to fix or change our partner gives us not only a sense of control, but also, weirdly, a sense of hope. Although these turn out to be illusions, it can be comforting to think that if only we try harder, things can be better. But we can’t get blood from a turnip. And we can’t get the love and support we need from a partner who’s controlling, out to lunch, narcissistic, emotionally unavailable, or downright abusive. Which brings us to: what can we do about this? How can we stop the conveyor belt of frogs? Here are five ways to fix a broken partner picker. 1. Tip #1: Beware the sunk cost fallacy. 2. Tip #2: Learn that healthy relationships aren’t dramatic. 3. Tip #3: Consciously note what makes a good partner. 4. Tip #4: Think about what you need, not what you’re drawn to. 5. Tip #5: When first starting out, take chemistry with a grain of salt.
Let’s explore each a little further.
Tip #1: Beware the sunk cost fallacy. If you’re still firmly entrenched in a bad relationship, remember the more you’ve invested, the harder it is to abandon ship. But you can’t turn ground beef into filet mignon no matter how hard you try. Yes, you’ve invested years in this relationship. Yes, you’ve invested sweat and tears and heartwrenching emotion. This can all be true and you can still walk away. Don’t stay in or go back simply because of your sunk costs. Leave it behind and move on.
Tip #2: Learn that healthy relationships aren’t dramatic. The maxim that relationships are work is true: communication is a constant project, no one is free of baggage, and building a life together includes figuring out who’s going to fold the laundry and how to afford the latest credit card bill. Building a relationship isn’t always easy, but fundamentally, being together should be undramatic. Mind games, manipulation, threats, getting friends to support your alibi—these have no place in a relationship. A good partner is happy, not threatened, when you succeed. They comfort, rather than pounce, when you are vulnerable. Many of my clients who have found a healthy partnership after a string of bad apples have echoed the same refrain: “I never realized that good relationships are actually quite boring.” It’s true: in healthy relationships, the police don’t show up, no one disappears for a week, there are no holes in the drywall, you don’t try to hack each other’s phones, no one sleeps with the other’s best friend, and no one screams and throws flaming belongings out the window at midnight. Instead, healthy relationships are about being each other’s biggest fans, helping each other through tough times, and having a good time doing it. You should enjoy the time you spend together. You should like and respect your partner as well as love them.
So don’t mistake intensity for love. Good relationships include a conspicuous lack of drama. Call it boring, or call it healthy.
Tip #3: Consciously note what makes a good partner. Observe the relationships of people you trust. What makes them work? Watch them and see how they do it. Actually seeing a good relationship modeled makes it much easier to spot similar behaviors when it’s your turn to try again. For example, you might observe a non-defensive owning of small mistakes, followed by trying to make it right. “Oh, I totally forgot I said I would pick up that package—I’m so sorry. Here, I’ll set a reminder on my phone right now to get it tomorrow.” Or note how one partner steps up while the other is having a tough week at work, and then watch how the other does the same in return. Make a mental note how they talk each other up not because their partner’s accomplishments make them look good, but because they’re genuinely proud of their partner’s success.
Tip #4: Think about what you need, not what you’re drawn to. Remember those lists of ideal partner traits you and your friends drew up in high school? “He has to have good hair and have a car.” “She has to be hot and like video games.” Luckily, our partnership choices are seldom determined by our high school tastes. More often, they are informed by chemistry: the complex emotional spark between two people. But when our picker is broken we can’t trust chemistry to decide for us. There’s a saying: “Stop painting red flags green.” It reminds us to heed early warning signs rather than pushing forward because we’re swept up in the rush of chemistry. Therefore, instead of getting pulled toward red-flag traits that feel familiar, think about what you need. Reflect on a grown-up version of a checklist. But unlike high school, this time it should focus on what kind of person they are and how they treat you. Perhaps you need integrity: someone fair and trustworthy. Perhaps reliability—someone who does what they say. Maybe you need someone who respects your boundaries when you state what you are or are not willing to do.
Tip #5: When first starting out, take chemistry with a grain of salt. Choosing your first relationship after a string of bad ones is tough. It’s like learning to walk again: you’re hesitant and don’t quite trust yourself not to fall. If you’re worried your picker is broken, temporarily override it with your brain. Think of it like food. Our picker might love jelly donuts, but we know jelly donut after jelly donut isn’t good for us, even if they’re comforting and familiar. Instead, consciously choose something healthier. Just like taste buds can evolve to prefer healthier options, so can your partner picker. Now, it’s important to remember that choosing something healthier doesn’t mean you have to choose something you don’t like. You don’t have to resign yourself to eating rice cakes and bean sprouts if you hate them. Likewise, don’t grit your teeth and date someone you have nothing in common with or are not attracted to just because they’re stable. Instead, be aware of the rush that comes when you see a jelly donut, a cocky smile, a rebel without a cause, or a train wreck in need of rescuing. That rush of chemistry isn’t credible when you’re trying to repair your picker. Instead, remind yourself of what you’ve learned from observing the healthy
relationships in your life and what kind of person you truly want to be with. Heed the red flags and take chemistry with a grain of salt. This is hard and will feel unnatural and maybe even wrong at first, but itâ€™s worth the investment to slowly step away from the frogs.
A Psychologist Breaks Down Top Leadership Obstacles and How to Address Them Where should you focus to get the best ROI on leadership training? We share some ideas. By
By John Pierre Justin M. Deonarine is an industrial-organizational psychologist with Psychometrics Canada, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)-member company which provides a full spectrum of assessment consulting services to help businesses hire the right individuals at all levels of job responsibility and develop teams and leaders. We asked Justin to share the results of a survey conducted by Psychometrics Canada about the greatest obstacles leaders face. Here’s what he learned: As a lifelong learner, I find myself returning to the topic of leadership developmentregularly. It’s a deep and complex topic, and certainly worth revisiting, particularly as we evolve throughout our careers. In an article that I wrote a few years ago, I posed the question, “Can we improve current leadership development efforts?” The answer is probably obvious (yes!), and yet research shows the following: •
Companies spend little of their training budget on leadership development.
Individuals openly share how ineffective these efforts are.
So where do you begin? No matter your management style or your industry, there are fundamental challenges shared by most leaders--and they make a perfect starting point for leadership training. We recently had the opportunity to survey 297 professionals about their greatest obstacles as leaders. Their responses highlighted four common challenges: Negotiation, delegation, networking and responding to unexpected changes. Let’s delve into the first two here.
Negotiation “So much of life is a negotiation. So even if you’re not in business, you have opportunities to practice all around you.” - Kevin O’Leary, founder, author and television personality Of total respondents, 65% reported finding negotiation a challenge.
These leaders shared common characteristics. They were either not comfortable with brainstorming creative compromises or not naturally inclined toward making arguments based solely on logic. These individuals may associate the word “negotiation” with “conflict,” while those who are comfortable with negotiation do not. The best negotiators are those who are prepared. They understand what they and the other party want. Indeed, the saying from The Art of War holds true: «If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.» Successful negotiators are also open to compromises that benefit both parties, even if it means they don’t get exactly what they want. If you are resistant to mutually beneficial compromises and maintain an “all-or-nothing” approach, then negotiation is bound to remain a stressful--and likely unsuccessful--ordeal.
Delegation “Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.” - Ronald Reagan, 40th president of the United States Of our respondents, 58% named delegating tasks as a challenge. Consider this: Delegation is not typically a problem for people who seek new solutions and energize others to act. These leaders see delegation as an opportunity to let others create solutions, as well as put their plans into action effectively. A few months ago, I helped a client who was hesitant to delegate the implementation of a new initiative to her team. She feared that she would be burdening her team with a challenge that they were not ready for. So, she tried to tackle the launch by herself, and she was quickly overwhelmed. I suggested that she see it as an opportunity for her team to collaborate and practice new skills, while the project would still be under her supervision. The team would be given a great opportunity to develop their strengths and cover for each other’s weaknesses. In these conditions, team members grow as they learn from each other--and the overall organization grows as a result. According to her last update, the team has risen to the challenge and successfully implemented the new initiative!
Open-Plan Offices Create Extra Stress for Women, Say Scientists
The corporate fishbowl forces women to be overly beauty-conscious and to suppress their natural emotions. Angela Granberry A few months ago, I suggested that open-plan offices create plausible deniability for sexual harassment. And, last week, I pointed out that air conditioning in most open-plan offices is optimized for men wearing suits, making women less productive. I also pointed out, in a separate column, that because there’s no analogy in women’s wear to the ubiquitous men’s business suit, women must expend extra time and money on the clothes they
wear each day. Well, this morning my boss sent me a link to a study by Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Bedfordshire of 1,000 employees who, over the course of three years, moved from traditional offices into an open-plan facility. Even though the study wasn’t focused on gender issues, it found ... numerous examples of people, particularly women, changing their behavior and dress as a result of working in an environment of constant visibility. When changing from a more closed, compartmentalized office space to a new open-plan, transparent and fluid working space, office workers were more conscious of their visibility and often found this unsettling rather than liberating. Women in particular felt anxious about the idea of being constantly watched, and felt they had to dress in a certain way. Tellingly, some women felt intimidated when walking into areas of the building dominated by men, because their presence--visible from everywhere in the room--made them the immediate center of attention because of how they looked, rather than their role in the company. Needless to say, men in the workplace have been ogling women ever since women started working in offices, but open-plan offices can turn what’s intermittent if annoying into something that’s unrelenting. The emphasis that open-plan offices put upon women’s appearance also creates a major disadvantage for women who don’t fit within our dominant culture’s rather limited definition of female beauty. Men don’t face this problem, because they’re less likely to be judged on their appearance and, in many office environments, can simply camouflage themselves in standard business suits. It’s seemed obvious to me for some time that there must be SOME reason that corporations have massively migrated to open-plan offices, even though there is overwhelming scientific evidence that they make everyone less productive. Somehow, it doesn’t surprise me--considering that male-dominated top management has been driving the transformation--that part of the hidden agenda was nudging women to focus on being eye candy rather than focus on their careers.
Jeff Bezos Banned PowerPoint in Meetings. His Replacement Is Brilliant Narrative memos have replaced PowerPoint presentations at Amazon. Here are 3 reasons why. Chris Blonde In his 2018 annual letter, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos repeated his rule that PowerPoint is banned in executive meetings. What Bezos replaced it with provides even more valuable insight for entrepreneurs and leaders. In his letter, and in a recent discussion at the Forum on Leadership at the Bush Center, Bezos revealed that “narrative structure” is more effective than PowerPoint. According to Bezos, new executives are in for a culture shock in their first Amazon meetings. Instead of reading bullet points on a PowerPoint slide, everyone sits silently for about 30 minutes to read a “six-page memo that’s narratively structured with real sentences, topic sentences, verbs, and nouns.” After everyone’s done reading, they discuss the topic. “It’s so much better than the typical PowerPoint presentation for so many reasons,” Bezos added. As a student of narrative storytelling in business for the past 20 years, I can tell you exactly why it’s so much better.
1. Our brains are hardwired for narrative. Narrative storytelling might not have been as critical for our survival as a species as food, but it comes close. Anthropologists say when humans gained control of fire, it marked a major milestone in human development. Our ancestors were able to cook food, which was a big plus. But it also had a second benefit. People sat around campfires swapping stories. Stories served as instruction, warning, and inspiration. Recently, I’ve talked to prominent neuroscientists whose experiments confirm what we’ve known for centuries: The human brain is wired for story. We process our world in narrative, we talk in narrative and-most important for leadership--people recall and retain information more effectively when it’s presented in the form of a story, not bullet points.
2. Stories are persuasive. Aristotle is the father of persuasion. More than 2,000 years ago he revealed the three elements that all persuasive arguments must have to be effective. He called these elements “appeals.” They are: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos is character and credibility. Logos is logic--an argument must appeal to reason. But ethos and logos are irrelevant in the absence of pathos--emotion.
Emotion is not a bad thing. The greatest movements in history were triggered by speakers who were gifted at making rational and emotional appeals: Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.; and John F. Kennedy, who blended science and emotion to inspire America’s moon program. Neuroscientists have found emotion is the fastest path to the brain. In other words, if you want your ideas to spread, story is the single best vehicle we have to transfer that idea to another person. “I’m actually a big fan of anecdotes in business,” Bezos said at the leadership forum as he explained why he reads customer emails and forwards them to the appropriate executive. Often, he says, the customer anecdotes are more insightful than data. Amazon uses “a ton of metrics” to measure success, explained Bezos. “I’ve noticed when the anecdotes and the metrics disagree, the anecdotes are usually right,” he noted. “That’s why it’s so important to check that data with your intuition and instincts, and you need to teach that to executives and junior executives.” Bezos clearly understands that logic (data) must be married with pathos (narrative) to be successful.
3. Bullet points are the least effective way of sharing ideas. I wrote an article last year titled “Google’s CEO Doesn’t Use Bullet Points and Neither Should You.” He still doesn’t. Neither do Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, or most of the world’s most inspiring speakers. Bullets don’t inspire. Stories do. Simply put, the brain is not built to retain information that’s structured as bullet points on a slide. It’s wellknown among neuroscientists that we recall things much better when when we see pictures of the object or topic than when we read text on a slide. Visuals are much, much more powerful than text alone. That’s why, if you choose to use slides, use more pictures than words--and don’t use bullet points. Ever. During his discussion at the forum, Bezos said he could have spent the entire event talking about narrative. That means he really studies this topic and is passionate about it. You should be too. Stories inform, illuminate, and inspire--all the things entrepreneurs strive to do.
Good News for Prime Members! You Can Now Get Discounts on Whole Foods Products! Chiris Blonde
Amazon is trying to give its Prime members more reasons to shop at Whole Foods. The company announced on Wednesday that it’s rolling out additional deals and discounts for members of its subscription service at the high-end grocer, which it acquired last year. Prime members will get an extra 10% off the hundreds of items already on sale throughout the store, and the company will offer a deep discount every week on bestselling items. “That’s significant,” Whole Foods CEO John Mackey told Fortune. “What we’ve seen is when we do special deals for Prime members, we get a lot of traffic.”
The company is launching the new benefits in Florida on Wednesday—$10 a pound off on halibut, $2 off organic strawberries, for example—and will roll out the program nationally this summer. Prime members will receive these discounts by scanning a Whole Foods app at checkout. Amazon has been implementing perks for its Prime members in Whole Foods since it acquired the grocery chain over the summer. The moves are, in part, meant to integrate the two companies and further immerse shoppers within the Prime ecosystem. Amazon has launched free two-hour delivery from Whole Foods through its Prime Now service in 10 cities, has Amazon lockers for package pick up at Whole Foods, and is selling Amazon products in stores.
The price cuts are part of effort to help Whole Foods shake its reputation as an expensive place to shop. “We’re going to to become increasingly more price competitive,” says Mackey. “That’s something that’s been a long-time dream of mine. Our merger with Amazon is helping to make that a reality.”
Mackey notes that it’s only been nine months since the acquisition and says the two companies are just now beginning to innovate together.
Facebook Continues to Remove Speech!
Facebook on Tuesday released numbers on the kinds of content—and how much of it—the company has removed in recent months. And the data is staggering.
In the first quarter of 2018, Facebook removed 2.5 million pieces of hate speech from its social network. Just 38% of that content was “flagged” by the company’s automated technology, requiring the remaining content to be discovered and flagged by humans. Facebook’s technology did a better job of finding graphic violence and automatically identified
86% of the 3.5 million pieces of that kind of content that was removed during the period.
Moving on, Facebook said that it removed 21 million pieces of content that depicted adult nudity and sexual activity and 96% of that was discovered by its technology before a user reported the content. Facebook said that for every 10,000 pieces of content on the service, seven to nine views were made on content that in some way violates its pornography regulations. Spam continues to be a problem at Facebook and a whopping 837 million pieces were removed from its service during the first quarter. Luckily for Facebook, nearly all of that content was scrubbed from the social network by its technology.
Fake accounts disabled during the first quarter hit 583 million, and the majority of them were removed “within minutes of registration,” Facebook reported. Facebook also stops millions of fake accounts from even signing up for its service each day. However, the company estimates that between 3% and 4% of the active accounts on its service are fake. Facebook has more than 2 billion monthly active users, suggesting there are still millions of fake accounts on its service at any given time.
Facebook released the data not to brag, but instead, the company said in a statement that it’s offering up its statistics so users can judge its performance themselves.
“We believe that increased transparency tends to lead to increased accountability and responsibility over time, and publishing this information will push us to improve more quickly too,” Facebook vice president of product management Guy Rosen wrote in a statement. He added that Facebook welcomes feedback to the data.
The data’s release comes at a tumultuous time for Facebook as the company grapples with privacy concerns following the revelation earlier this year that information on millions of its users was obtained by former political consulting company Cambridge Analytica. Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg subsequently apologized for the data leak.
Aliens May Well Exist in a Parallel Universe, New Studies Find
Could alien life exist in a parallel universe? Computer simulations from two new studies suggest the idea might not be out of this world.
Should the search for alien life in our universe come up empty-handed, it might be worth checking in on a neighboring universe instead. Julien Harden According to a new pair of studies in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, there’s a decent chance that life-fostering planets could exist in a parallel universe — even if that universe were being torn apart by dark energy. The idea that our universe is just one of many, perhaps infinite, other universes is known as the multiverse theory. Scientists have previously thought that such parallel universes, if they exist, would have to meet an extremely strict set of criteria to allow for the formation of stars, galaxies and lifefostering planets like those seen in our own universe.
In the new study, researchers ran a massive computer simulation to build new universes under various starting conditions. They found that the conditions for life might be a little broader than previously thought — especially when it comes to the mysterious pull of dark energy.
Dark energy is a mysterious, invisible force thought to exist in the empty spaces of our universe. You could think about it as the archnemesis of gravity; while gravity pulls matter closer together, dark energy flings it apart — and dark energy is winning this cosmic tug-ofwar handily. Not only is our universe expanding, thanks to the constant, invisible push of dark energy, but the rate of that expansion is also getting faster and faster every day. It’s thought that, as more empty space appears in the universe, even more dark energy appears to fill it. (Dark energy is not the same as dark matter, which is an abundant, invisible form of matter thought to be responsible for some very weird gravitational phenomena around space.) Scientists don’t know exactly what dark energy is or how it works; some think it’s an intrinsic property of space — what Einstein called the cosmological constant — while others attribute it to a fundamental force called quintessence, with dynamic rules all its own. Others don’t even agree that it exists. But whatever it is, everyone can agree that there’s a whole lot of it: According to the best current estimates, nearly 70 percent of the mass-energy of our universe may be made of dark energy. This quantity, for whatever reason, is in the right range to allow galaxies to grow and foster life. It is thought that if we lived in a universe with too much dark energy, space might expand faster than galaxies could possibly form. Too little dark energy, and runaway gravity could cause every galaxy to collapse in on itself before life ever had a chance to appear. But the question of how much dark energy is “too much” or “too little” is a topic for debate — and it’s this issue of quantity that the authors of the new studies hoped to narrow down.
Life finds a way Across several experiments, an international team of researchers from England, Australia and the Netherlands used a program called Evolution and Assembly of Galaxies and their Environments to simulate the birth, life and eventual death of various hypothetical universes. In each simulation, the researchers adjusted the amount of dark energy present in that universe, ranging from none to several hundred times the amount in our own universe. The good news: Even in universes with 300 times as much dark energy as ours, life found a way. “Our simulations showed that the accelerated expansion driven by dark energy has hardly any impact on the birth of stars, and hence places for life to arise,” study co-author Pascal Elahi, a research fellow at the University of Western Australia, said in a statement. “Even increasing dark energy many hundreds of times might not be enough to make a dead universe.” That’s good news for fans of extraterrestrial life and the multiverse theory. But a bigger question remains: If galaxies could still thrive on so much dark energy, why did our universe get handed such a seemingly small amount? “I think we should be looking for a new law of physics to explain this strange property of our Universe,” co-author Richard Bower, a professor at Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology, said in the statement. Of course, finding new laws of physics is easier said than done. Scientists won’t give up easily — but
perhaps, to hedge their bets, they should also look for a parallel universe where some intelligent life has already done it for them.
TWITTER WILL BEGIN HIDING ALL TWEETS FROM SUSPECT ACCOUNTS April Khan Twitter announced Tuesday that it will begin to hide all tweets from some accounts in conversations and search results. The goal is to identify and filter trolls and harmful users, based not on any specific tweet, but on how they use the social network holistically.
The new effort is part of Twitter’s two-month-old initiative to discern what it means for the platform to be «healthy.» Previously, Twitter mostly looked at the content of individual tweets to decide how to moderate them. Now, it›s going to consider many more behavioral signals, like whether an account tweets frequently at others who don›t follow it. The fresh filtering strategy may be a step toward a more healthy Twitter, but it’s already helping to fuel conspiracy theories—especially because the social network isn’t yet alerting users who get swept up into the new system.
Those whose tweets are deemed to be “disruptive,” but that don’t violate Twitter’s policies outright, will be secluded at the bottom of a conversation thread or search result, to make room for more productive and respectful conversations. Some of the new signals Twitter will consider include whether you’ve confirmed your email address, whether you’ve created multiple accounts from the same IP address, and whether you’re frequently blocked by accounts you interact with. Tweets that get filtered this way—as long as they don’t violate Twitter’s policies—won’t be removed, but you will have to click “Show more replies,” or elect to “show everything” in your search settings in order to view them.
Twitter’s lack of transparency around its filtering mechanisms might be justified, but it also helps to fuel conspiracy theorists. For now, it’s unclear whether users will even know if they’ve been flagged under the new system. A Twitter spokesperson says the company is working on developing ways to give users the ability to appeal or flag mistakes. These new changes will likely affect a very small
fraction of users; Twitter says that less than one percent of total accounts make up the majority of those reported for abuse. Twitter also notes that in early tests, the new signals resulted in fewer abuse reports being filed to begin with. The social network saw a 4 percent drop in reports from search, and an 8 percent drop in reports from conversations, according to the company. Twitter, like other social networks, has long curated replies and search results. In 2015, Twitter began displaying replies to tweets algorithmically on desktop, based on signals like their content and whether the original account replied to them. The social network brought the same changes to mobile in 2016. Those tweaks changed Twitter for the better, and are why you don’t see hoards of bots in the replies to President Trump›s tweets anymore, for example.
The new moderation tactics will likely make the service better, and more useful for the average user. If you want to know how Twitter is digesting the president’s latest tweet, it’s significantly more helpful to have thoughtful replies at the top rather than bots trying to sell “liberal tears” mugs. But these moderation methods also remain opaque; unlike an outright Terms of Service violation, users aren’t notified when their tweets—and now their entire accounts—are simply de-prioritized in the system.
Twitter has also long “shadowbanned” users, meaning it limits how visible their tweets are to others when the social network detects they may be behaving in an abusive or spammy manner. Shadowbanning is often portrayed as an unsanctioned last resort, but the practice is clearly detailed in Twitter’s Help Center (though it doesn›t call it that). The problem, though, is that users can only guess if they›re impacted based on factors like a sudden drop in tweet impressions, a metric Twitter displays on the right-hand side of a user›s account page. Twitter›s new filtering system is similar to shadowbanning, but it incorporates far more behavioral signals, specifically designed to detect when someone is disrupting the conversation.
Of course, Twitter has good reason not to alert troublesome users that their messages are being filtered. If you’re running s scam on the social network, any indication that you’ve been shadowbanned is a signal to give up, make a new account, and try again. Likewise, if you’re trying to harass someone and suspect you’ve been filtered, you might ask your followers to attack them instead. Twitter’s lack of transparency around its filtering mechanisms might be justified, but it also helps to fuel conspiracy theorists who believe they’re being unjustly censored. After Twitter announced its new moderation policies Tuesday, a number of its users(predictably) latched onto the news as evidence of the social network’s sinister efforts to silence free speech. But Twitter likely isn’t bothered. The platform—which has been plagued by spam, abuse, and misinformation problems since it launched—is attempting to execute a strategy its competitors have not. Instead of striving for neutrality, Twitter is again prioritizing better conversations, as it continues to examine what a healthy conversation looks like online.
THIS IS AJIT PAI, NEMESIS OF NET NEUTRALITY
DINAH RASHID I N M A R C H, A J I T Pai, the 45-year-old chair of the Federal Communications Commission, took to
the internet—a community he joyfully inhabits and grudgingly regulates—to pay tribute to his favorite movie. “It’s not just, like, my opinion, man: 20 years ago today,
#TheBigLebowski—the greatest film in the history of cinema—was released,” Pai wrote on Twitter. “Decades on, the Dude still abides and the movie really ties us all together.” And sure enough, the response to Pai’s cheerful tweet was united.
You’re out of your element Ajit. —@JohnsNotHere
Yes, Ajit. Stop trying to mingle with humans. —@Douche_McGraw
I hope you enjoy watching that movie alone since you have zero friends —@aseriousmang
No one likes you dork —@chessrockwell_
The insults, hundreds upon hundreds of them, accumulated in his replies. Some took the form of incredulous Jeff Bridges GIFs, others mimicked famous lines of Lebowskidialog. People debated whether Pai was more like one of the movie’s nihilist kidnappers or its corporate stooge. The competition is stiff, but Pai may be the most reviled man on the internet. He is despised as both a bumbling rube, trying too hard to prove he gets it, and a cunning villain, out to destroy digital freedom. (As one mocking headline put it: “Ajit Pai will not rest until he has killed The Big Lebowski, too.”) The anger emanates from his move, shortly after being appointed by Donald Trump, to repeal Obama-era net neutrality regulations. He called his policy the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, an Orwellian touch in the view of his critics, who see it as a mortal threat. In the simplest terms, the principle of net neutrality prevents internet service providers, such as Verizon or Comcast, from manipulating network traffic for discriminatory purposes. Defenders contend that, without such rules, those companies could exert nefarious powers. They might slow down Netflix, making movies like The Big Lebowski unwatchable, in order to push captive subscribers to their own properties, a prospect that becomes more plausible as telecoms like AT&T and Verizon expand into content. They could charge tech companies extra fees to reach customers, giving a competitive advantage to those that pay. They could starve a startup or stifle a voice of dissent. Pai discounted such scenarios, calling them “hypothetical harms and hysterical prophecies of doom,” and pointed out that there was little evidence of such behavior before the Obama administration imposed the regulations in 2015. But the opposition, drawing energy from the broader anti-Trump resistance, was not persuaded by his reassurances. “If you’re not freaking out about net neutrality right now,” the activist group Fight for the Future warned its followers last year, “you’re not paying attention.”
Pai sought to defuse suspicions by presenting himself as an affable nerd, dropping conspicuous references to Star Wars and comic book heroes. But the internet wasn’t buying it. Last May, after satirist John Oliver delivered a scathing monologue ridiculing what he called Pai’s “doofy, ‘Hey, I’m just like you guys’ persona”—he focused on Pai’s habit of drinking from a giant novelty coffee mug at meetings—and calling on viewers of Last Week Tonight to stand up for net neutrality, the FCC’s website received an onslaught of comments against the repeal. Most simply voiced support for Obama’s policy, but some spat racist vitriol at Pai, who is a child of Indian immigrants, or even threatened his life. Trolls tracked down review pages for his wife’s medical practice and filled them with abusive one-star reviews. Perhaps unwisely, Pai kept trying to fight back on the internet’s own terms. He jousted with celebrities and nobodies on social media. He staged self-conscious stunts, like appearing in a video entitled “7 Things You Can Still Do on the Internet After Net Neutrality,” in which he posed as a Jedi and danced to “Harlem Shake” with a bunch of young conservatives. But the video just inflamed the internet. On Twitter, Mark Hamill—Luke Skywalker himself—jeered at Pai, calling him “profoundly unworthy” to wield a lightsaber. Someone else quickly identified a young woman dancing next to Pai as a right-wing conspiracy theorist who had helped spread “Pizzagate,” a hoax scandal from the lunatic fringe that linked Hillary Clinton to a childabuse ring. On December 14, as that spectacle of Pai cavorting with the far right was zipping around the world, the FCC commissioners met to consider the fate of net neutrality. Demonstrators rallied outside the agency’s headquarters, but Pai appeared unperturbed as he and his four fellow commissioners filed into a fluorescent-lit chamber. By Washington tradition, the FCC’s membership is divided, with two seats picked by the opposition’s congressional leaders. His two Republican colleagues spoke in favor of the repeal, while the two Democrats offered harsh dissents. The chair had the final word. “The internet has enriched my own life immeasurably,” Pai said. “In the past few days alone, I’ve set up a FaceTime call with my parents and kids, downloaded interesting podcasts about blockchain technology, I’ve ordered a burrito, I’ve managed my playoff-bound fantasy football team. And—as many of you might have seen—I’ve tweeted. What is responsible for the phenomenal development of the internet? Well, it certainly wasn’t heavy-handed government regulation.” As Pai spoke, there was furtive commotion in the back of the room. A hulking armed guard stepped forward. “On advice of security, we need to take a brief recess,” Pai said abruptly, and then stood up and hurried out a side door. A murmur went through the audience: bomb threat. The room was evacuated and searched. Eventually everyone returned and Pai called for a vote. The repeal passed, 3–2. Pai took a satisfied sip from his much-maligned coffee mug. People who know Pai swear that his nerdy persona is authentic. And even his adversaries will admit that he’s an anomaly in the Trump administration: a skillful practitioner of the Washington game. Pai has spent his entire professional life in the capital, acquiring influential patrons (Mitch McConnell, Jeff Sessions) and insider expertise. As Harold Feld, an ardent critic who works for the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, laments, “Why was my area of policy the one that got the guy who actually knows what he’s doing?” Behind Pai’s brainy, technocratic mask, though, is an alter ego: ruthless conservative
ideologue. In this sense, he is emblematic of Trump’s Washington, where all debates—even the bone-dry bureaucratic ones—have become so heated that they are fought like matters of life and death. Pai’s competence has allowed him to make quick work of undoing the Obama administration’s legacy at the FCC. But his polarizing politics assure that the battle over internet regulation will keep raging. “I like Ajit Pai personally, although I don’t want to defend him in public,” admits another net neutrality supporter. “But you’re not allowed to try to destroy the internet and then be treated well by the internet. The internet should hate him.” PA I M AY B E a creature of Washington, but he still presents himself as a provincial at heart. He
grew up in the small town of Parsons, Kansas, where his parents, both Indian-born doctors, practiced at a county hospital. Pai’s connections to the wider world were AM radio and his family’s satellite television dish. Today many rural communities are without broadband internet access, an issue Pai often addresses publicly. “I’ve been to many, many towns around this country, and I’ve seen how people are on the wrong side of that digital divide,” Pai told students at his old high school in Parsons last September. (He declined to be interviewed for this article.) He told the assembly about a momentous occasion: meeting Trump in the Oval Office for the first time. “You walk out and you see the grandeur of the White House and you think about the fact that you just met the most powerful person in the world, and I couldn’t help but think about a kid I used to know 30 years before,” Pai said. “He was a shy kid, bushy mustache, bushy hair, really awkward talking to people, just didn’t quite know what was going on. He was, candidly, a dork.” Pai could argue, though, that dorkiness was his ticket out of Parsons. He was a top-flight debater in high school and, later, at Harvard. He arrived in Cambridge as a Democrat, but under the influence of a professor, Martin Feldstein, who had advised Ronald Reagan, he adopted a conservative free-market philosophy. Pai was also put off by the racial politics on Harvard’s campus. After the 1992 race riots in Los Angeles, his residential house invited students to post their feelings on a wall—a literal, brick-and-mortar one. Though a minority himself, Pai was skeptical of liberal identity politics, and he wrote that “the real problem” when it came to race at Harvard was “voluntary segregation.”
“Pai is very much casting his lot with this Trump revolution.” Pai graduated from Harvard in 1994, a year in which two developments emerged that would shape the course of his professional life. That October, Netscape released the first commercially successful web browser, opening the way for the modern internet. A month later, the Republican Party won control of Congress. The spirit of Newt Gingrich’s “Republican Revolution” was strong at the University of Chicago, where Pai had just started law school. He belonged to the Edmund Burke Society, a vocal conservative group, but also studied with Cass Sunstein, a brilliant liberal scholar of administrative law. (Gigi Sohn—a Democrat and net neutrality advocate who worked at the FCC when Pai was there—told me that after a controversial vote, she saw Pai vehemently arguing with someone who had disparaged his knowledge of administrative law on Twitter. Explaining his anger later, he told her: “I got an A in Cass Sunstein’s administrative law class!”) When Pai later moved to Washington, he joined a cohort of young conservatives who were impassioned about curtailing regulation. “Ajit was a type, as were a lot of his friends from Chicago, that would geek out about the differences in originalist philosophy of Scalia and Thomas,” says a friend from the time, Ketan Jhaveri. “And how to use that to get the
government to do less.” In 1998, Pai joined the Justice Department as a junior attorney in the antitrust division. He was assigned to a task force overseeing the telecommunications industry, which was going through a period of upheaval. Deregulation had contributed to a boom in dot-com stocks, huge investment in broadband, and a wave of telecom mergers. In 2000, Pai took part in an investigation that eventually blocked the proposed merger of WorldCom and Sprint, partly because it stood to give one company a dominant percentage of the internet’s “backbone” infrastructure. The concern, then as now, was that the company that owned the pipes could also manipulate the flow of data. For practical purposes, some traffic management was essential, but the academics and engineers who pioneered the internet could already foresee how that control could lead to abuses such as blocking access to websites and “throttling”—or deliberately slowing—the connections of certain consumers. In 2002, a young law professor named Tim Wu wrote a short paper that he titled “A Proposal for Network Neutrality.” He framed the issue in modest terms, suggesting a standard that regulators could use to decide which methods of network management should be permitted (for the valid purpose of directing traffic) and which should be banned (for distorting the fundamental openness of the internet). “I was sure it was a complete waste of time,” Wu recalls of that paper. But the phrase “net neutrality” caught on. Over time the concept has come to mean something far more sweeping, invoked to protect not just bits of data but free speech, personal privacy, innovation, and most every other public good associated with the internet. (Pai has called it “one of the more seductive marketing slogans that’s ever been attached to a public policy issue.”) The world of telecommunications law is small, and Wu says he crossed paths with Pai around the time he came up with the concept of net neutrality. “Back in the day, he used to throw pretty good parties,” Wu said. Pai was active in the Federalist Society, the intellectual center of the conservative legal scene, but he was a bipartisan networker. He used to arrange large happy hour events, sending out mass email invitations that took the form of clever limericks. “Everyone knew his politics, but it was kind of like a joke,” says Jhaveri, who worked with Pai at the Justice Department and is now a tech entrepreneur. “A lot of our close friends were liberal and would give him a hard time about it, but all in good fun.” After the Justice Department, Pai went to work at Verizon as a corporate attorney, but his foray into the private sector lasted just two years. He went on to Capitol Hill as an aide to two of the most conservative members of the Senate: first Sessions, from Alabama, and then Sam Brownback, who represented Pai’s home state of Kansas. Unlike his bosses, Pai was not a fire-breather on social issues, but he could see who was on the ascent in Washington during George W. Bush’s presidency. Finally, in 2007, Pai found his natural place at the FCC, taking a midlevel position in the general counsel’s office. Established in 1934 to oversee radio airwaves and the Bell telephone monopoly, the FCC is one of those government institutions that conceals its importance behind an impenetrable veneer of boringness. The agency has historically had a dynamic of symbiosis—to put it politely—with the companies it oversees. FCC staffers deal mainly with lobbyists, and often
become lobbyists, shuttling back and forth between K Street and the “8th Floor,” as the commissioners’ suites are known in Washington. As Pai joined the agency, activism was starting to stir around the issue of net neutrality. On a basic level, the problem concerned an ambiguity in the way the law dealt with internet service providers. The ones that started as phone companies were regulated under Title II of the Telecommunications Act and classified as “common carriers.” The cable companies, like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, were governed by the more permissive Title I, which covers “information services.” During the Bush administration—after much lobbying, litigation, and a Supreme Court decision—the FCC reclassified all ISPs under the looser designation of information services. “That deal really was: You won’t be regulated like a phone company—which they hate, it’s very expensive—as long as you invest and serve the country,” says Michael Powell, Bush’s first FCC chair. “And what did the companies do? Over a decade, it was the fastest-deploying technology in the history of the world. They invested over a trillion dollars.” Of course, putting broadband in the less regulated category meant the FCC would have fewer powers to police anticompetitive practices. In 2004, Powell, a Republican, set forth voluntary principles. “It was consciously and purposely meant to be a shot across the bow of the ISP industry,” Powell says. He was telling them to behave or else the rules could return. Powell’s approach looked feeble to net neutrality advocates, who were backed by an emerging economic and political force: Silicon Valley. Companies like Google suspected— not unreasonably—that the internet service providers, which had invested all that capital in broadband, resented them for skating on their networks for free. The providers were rumored to be interested in charging tech companies for fast delivery, a practice known as “paid prioritization,” and if they started to exploit their middleman position, it could potentially upend the economy of the internet. “I’m not saying that Google doesn’t act out of self-interest,” says Andrew McLaughlin, who helped start Google’s public policy operation in Washington. “But that self-interest was the sense that the long-term future of the internet is better off if it’s free and open.” The new billionaires of Silicon Valley embraced Barack Obama when he ran for president in 2008, as did many of their employees like McLaughlin, who became a White House technology adviser. “The Democrats won the fight about who was going to hang out with the cool kids,” says Randy Milch, who was then general counsel at Verizon. “Then they carried the water for the cool kids. That’s how this became a partisan battle.” Obama took up the cause of net neutrality, and his first FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, cut a deal with the telecom companies to accept new regulations. This incensed congressional Republicans. If Obama favored net neutrality, congressional Republicans were opposed, and the formerly technocratic issue became a right-wing bugaboo. On Fox News, Glenn Beck drew crazed diagrams on his blackboard linking White House aides who favored net neutrality to Marxist academics and Mao. With encouragement from its allies on Capitol Hill, Verizon sued the FCC. This was much to the consternation of the rest of the industry, which considered Genachowski’s rules preferable to the hardcore alternative of commoncarrier regulation.
In 2011, when a Republican seat opened up on the FCC, Mitch McConnell put Pai forward for the post. During his confirmation hearing, when Pai was asked about net neutrality, he said he’d keep an open mind as the courts considered Verizon’s lawsuit. Net neutrality advocate Harold Feld wrote an approving blog post, calling the nominee a “workhorse wonk.” “Boy, was I wrong,” Feld says today.
A F T E R M CCO N N E L L A N D the Republican leadership sent Pai to the commission in 2012, he
revealed himself to be a fierce partisan. He reportedly shocked FCC staff with the militantly conservative rhetoric of his very first dissent, over a small-bore decision about the Tennis Channel. Pai went on to clash bitterly with Tom Wheeler, the Democrat who led the FCC during Obama’s later years. “Pai was running circles around him,” says Craig Aaron, president of the advocacy group Free Press, who watched Pai maneuver in league with Republicans on Capitol Hill. So when a federal court sided with Verizon in early 2014, requiring the FCC to find a new net neutrality approach, Pai was ready. “He went to war,” Aaron says. The court decision appeared to leave the FCC only one route: classifying service providers under the restrictive rules that covered phone companies as common carriers. This was the outcome the ISPs had dreaded. In 2014, in a move Pai decried as White House meddling, Obama released a YouTube video endorsing this approach. Pai fought against what he called “President Obama’s plan to regulate the internet.” But the regulations passed, and in June 2016 a court upheld them. The issue looked settled. Then, in a turn no one saw coming, Trump won the presidential election.
Pai never explicitly identified himself with his party’s “never Trump” faction, but as an intellectual conservative and the son of immigrants, he has little sympathy for the president’s crass nativism, says a friend who talked to him throughout the 2016 campaign. “I would be very surprised if he voted for Trump,” this friend added. (An FCC spokesperson says Pai voted for Trump.) Still, when Trump won the election, Pai, like many Republicans in Washington, recalibrated his ideological agenda. “I knew once Trump met him and heard his life story, Trump was going to like him,” says Christopher Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax Media and a confidant of the president’s. It helped that Pai’s old boss Sessions was, at that time, one of Trump’s most trusted advisers. When offered the FCC chairship, Pai eagerly accepted the post.
When Trump won the election, Pai, like many Republicans in Washington, recalibrated his ideological agenda. As the nation’s top telecommunications regulator, Pai’s unofficial duties include presiding over an annual Chairman’s Dinner, also known as the “telecom prom,” a Washington hotel gala filled with inside jokes about cable retransmission disputes and the like. In last year’s speech, Pai offered tips for his newly powerless Democratic colleagues (“Tip #1: Leak ... frequently”) and performed a skit in which he poked fun at his own reputation as a corporate shill. It depicted a young Pai, circa 2003, conspiring with a real-life Verizon executive. “As you know, the FCC is captured by industry, but we think it’s not captured enough,” she said. “We want to brainwash and groom a Verizon puppet to install as FCC chair. Think Manchurian Candidate.” “That sounds awesome,” Pai replied enthusiastically. All that was missing was “a Republican who will be able to win the presidency in 2016 to appoint you FCC chairman,” the Verizon executive said. “If only somebody could give us a sign.” The twangy bass line of the Apprentice theme played, and Trump’s face filled the screen. It is difficult to serve Trump without getting muddied in the mayhem of Trumpism—as Sessions and many others have discovered. Last fall, when Trump launched a Twitter attack on NBC, suggesting it might be “appropriate to challenge” its broadcast license for reporting “Fake News”—that is, news he didn’t like—the FCC chair kept quiet for days before meekly declaring that the FCC would “stand for the First Amendment.” Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic commissioner, says: “Maybe it was fear. But history won’t be kind to silence.” For the most part, though, Pai has been left to run the FCC with little interference. Trump may love television, but he doesn’t care about the dry arcana of telecommunications regulation. At Pai’s sole Oval Office meeting, last March, Trump mainly wanted to talk about winning and their shared love of football, Pai told others, and gushed about the strategy his buddy, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, had employed to stage a Super Bowl comeback against the Falcons. Insofar as the White House has an opinion on net neutrality, it was set early by Steve Bannon, Trump’s political adviser, who declared that the “deconstruction of the administrative state” would be one of the administration’s core priorities. “It was sort of knee-jerk in the White House,” says a Republican net neutrality supporter who discussed the issue with both Pai and Bannon last year. “Bannon said, ‘This is Obama’s rule and we should throw it out.’ ” Though Bannon has since been banished, the deregulatory campaign marches on. Beneath the fireworks display of angry tweets, Russia investigations, and sex and corruption scandals, Trump has been filling the judiciary and federal agencies
with appointees determined to curtail bureaucratic power. Even before he was named chair, Pai said he wanted to take a “weed whacker” to FCC regulations, and it was inevitable, given his and his party’s hostility to net neutrality, that he would reverse Obama’s common-carrier designation. But Pai’s order went much further. It allowed ISPs to do what they want with traffic, so long as they disclose it to customers in the fine print, delegating enforcement power to another agency entirely: the Federal Trade Commission. “I think most people thought he would take the rules and roll them back in a modest way,” Rosenworcel says. “This was radical.” Effectively, he has set the industry free of the FCC.
Pai has also made decisions favorable to other corporations, like Sinclair Broadcast Group, the owner of nearly 200 local television stations, which is vehemently supportive of Trump’s agenda. Among other things, the FCC eased ownership rules that limited Sinclair’s growth and is reviewing a controversial merger that would allow it to control another 42 stations, giving it a presence in 70 percent of the US. Progressive priorities, meanwhile, have been slashed. The FCC has moved to curtail Lifeline, a program that subsidizes phone and internet connections for poor people. If the cutbacks go through, some 8 million consumers could lose their Lifeline connections. “Pai is very much casting his lot with this Trump revolution,” says Aaron of the advocacy group Free Press. Pai has responded to Free Press’ net neutrality criticisms by calling the group “spectacularly misnamed,” characterizing one of its founders as a radical socialist. He is even more unsparing behind closed doors. A former employee of a public interest group tells of being berated by Pai for an offending press release. “When you were talking with him privately, he used to seem genuinely interested in understanding,” says someone who has discussed net neutrality with Pai on several occasions. Now, however, his mind is closed to contrary thoughts. People who work at the FCC say that the agency is roiled by internal conflict. “It is incredibly partisan,” Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn told me in December. “I’ve been there for almost nine years, and I’ve never seen it to this degree.” In April, she resigned.
HOW TO SPEAK NET NEUTRALITY Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) should not speed up, slow down, or manipulate network traffic for discriminatory purposes. It needs its own glossary.
Blocking and Throttling The crudest types of net neutrality violations. Blocking means exactly what it sounds like, while throttling refers to deliberately slowing the flow of data.
Paid Prioritization Without net neutrality, ISPs could prioritize—that is, speed up—the flow of data from certain sites, giving an advantage to companies that pay tolls.
Title I and Title II ISPs want to be covered under Title I of the Telecommunications Act, which is fairly lenient. But net neutrality advocates prefer Title II, which would treat ISPs as “common carriers” and allow tougher regulation.
Common Carrier A legal concept that says certain entities—like railroads and phone companies—are so important that government needs to ensure they are open to everyone equally.
Gloria Tristani, a former Democratic FCC commissioner who now represents the National Hispanic Media Coalition, went to visit Pai last June, up on the 8th Floor. Sitting in armchairs in the chair’s spacious suite, Tristani tried to broach the subject of net neutrality and the Lifeline cutbacks, but Pai gave her a frosty reception. She says that she tried to be diplomatic, saying that, despite their party differences, she still believed Pai was motivated by his view of the public interest. “He gets up from his chair, goes to his desk, and comes back with a sheet of paper,” Tristani recalls. Pai thrust the paper at her. “He says something to the effect of, ‘You really dare say that to me?’ ” On the paper was a tweet she had written in favor of net neutrality. Posted beneath it was a picture of Tristani at a protest, pointing toward a “Save the Internet!” banner. It was next to a monstrous effigy meant to symbolize corporate money, from which Pai and Trump dangled on puppet strings. (An FCC spokesperson says Pai recalls a less confrontational encounter.) Pai’s opponents make no apologies for demonizing him, given the stakes they say are involved. Without net neutrality, they predict, consumers could end up paying more money
for less bandwidth, while tech companies that have come to depend on fast connections could be faced with a shakedown: Pay up or choke. The service providers scoff, saying they have no incentive to alienate their customers. But if Pai’s enemies and allies agree about one thing, it’s that his policy aims are about something larger than the speed at which packets of data traverse the cables and switches that make up the physical infrastructure of the internet. “I don’t think this fight is really fundamentally about net neutrality,” says Berin Szoka, founder of the libertarian advocacy group TechFreedom, who is well acquainted with Pai. “It’s really about people who, on the one hand, want to maximize the government’s authority over the internet, versus people who don’t trust the government and want to constrain its authority.” A decade from now, it’s possible that the net neutrality argument will look like the first skirmish in a much larger conflict—one with shifting alliances and interests. For years, the service providers have been telling Silicon Valley to be careful about what they wished for. Earlier this year, Powell, now the top lobbyist for the cable industry, told me: “They are going to lose the war, because they are acclimating the world to regulation. They’re going to be next.” And sure enough, over the past few months of scandals over Russian bots and Facebook data-harvesting, and the ensuing congressional hearings, the notion that the government might seek to expand its regulatory purview over Silicon Valley has started to seem conceivable. The tech companies are suddenly friendless in Washington, facing pressure not only from the left, which now sees them as no less evil than the ISPs, but also the right, which complains that its voices are being muffled by speech restrictions. It is no coincidence that last year, as the FCC prepared to repeal net neutrality regulations, Silicon Valley’s response was notably muted. The conservative antiregulatory ideology might represent the industry’s best hope for an escape route for an industry that now fears government constraints. And besides, the big tech companies are no longer so sure that net neutrality is crucial to their business models. Even if service providers start charging tolls, the dominant internet companies will have negotiating power. Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, conceded at an industry conference last year that net neutrality is “not our primary battle at this point” because his company is now “big enough to get the deals we want.” The demise of the regulation could even have an upside for a now-established incumbent like Netflix, protecting its position from upstart competitors. “I think there is a growing consensus,” says analyst Craig Moffett, “that while it’s nice to be able to talk about how an issue like paid prioritization will strangle the next Google before it’s born, no one will benefit from strangling the next Google before it’s born more than Google.” I T I S I M P O S S I B L E to say whether Pai has killed net neutrality or whether, in the long term,
it will return, either through a change of power in Washington, a court decision—appeals are ongoing—or even legislation. It is safe to predict, though, that there will be no peace between Pai and the internet. Over the past year, as he has been parodied and tormented by trolls, Pai has spent a lot of time in real life, on the road, driving rental cars through rural states and promising to bring broadband to the heartland. He has directed billions in funds to close the “digital divide” while appointing an advisory committee to identify regulations that slow down deployment. Even on his signature issue, though, there are problems. The committee is stacked to favor corporate interests, critics say, and Pai’s choice for its chair, the chief executive of an Alaska telecommunications company, created an embarrassing scandal.
She resigned last year and was later arrested on federal fraud charges related to that telecom business.
Pai says his rural initiative is intended to help neglected consumers, but his barnstorming has led to widespread speculation that he has one eye on Kansas. “He’s probably going to run for Senate one day,” says Roslyn Layton, a policy expert who dealt with Pai as a member of Trump’s FCC transition team. “He wants to be known as a person from rural America who cares about rural America’s concerns.” Still, it’s hard to imagine Pai running for office after his recent experience in the fray. He’s proven to be a formidable infighter but a maladroit public figure. Though he tries to maintain an indifferent air in public, people who know him say he has been rattled. Jerry Moran, a Republican senator from Kansas, held a small reception for Pai at a Washington townhouse last spring. The attendees were old friends and colleagues, and Pai became emotional. “He broke down,” recalls Wayne Gilmore, an optometrist who owns a radio station in Parsons. “His family was already getting death threats. It was real.”
“He broke down. His family was already getting death threats. It was real.” With the darkness, though, comes a bright side: Pai is now viewed as a hero by conservatives. One Friday this past February, Pai went to a convention center outside Washington to deliver a speech to CPAC, an important annual gathering for members of the conservative movement. Out in the corridor, many slim-suited young deplorables with fashy haircuts were milling about, along with a woman costumed as Hillary Clinton in prison stripes. Pai was in the unenviable position of following Trump, who had delivered a rambling stem-winder in which he joked about his hair, maligned the ill John McCain, and talked at length about arming teachers, his response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the week before. By the time Pai took the stage for his segment, which was titled “American Pai: The Courageous Chairman of the FCC,” the schedule was running around an hour behind. Pai walked onstage with Dan Schneider, one of the conference organizers. “Ajit Pai, as you probably already know, saved the internet,” Schneider said, by way of introduction, as Pai guffawed appreciatively. “And he spent a lot of hours preparing a wonderful speech that he’s not going to deliver now.” “OK?” said Pai, who was carrying a copy of the speech in his inside coat pocket. “As soon as President Trump came into office, President Trump asked Ajit Pai to liberate the internet and give it back to you,” Schneider went on. “Ajit Pai is the most courageous, heroic person that I know. He has received countless death threats. His property has been invaded by the George Soros crowd. He has a family, and his family has been abused.” Then Schneider sprung a surprise. He brought an official from the National Rifle Association onstage. She announced that the NRA, a conference sponsor, was giving Pai an award. “We cannot bring it
onstage,” she said. “It’s a Kentucky handmade long gun.” Pai looked dumbfounded. It later emerged that FCC staffers backstage had prevented the NRA from bringing out the “musket” for fear of violating ethics regulations—and also, no doubt, wanting to avoid the spectacle of the enemy of net neutrality brandishing a firearm, the week after a deadly school shooting that had ignited massive protests. Friends later said that Pai was enraged that his speech on internet freedom was preempted, but he smiled and gave awkward thanks. Afterward he was ushered downstage for a panel discussion. “Wow,” he said, unable to hide his befuddlement. Pai nonetheless managed to hit some of his usual notes, quoting Gandalf the Grey and praising his own decision to take on the interests favoring net neutrality. “Some people urged me to go for sacrifice bunts and singles,” he said. “But I don’t play small ball.” Pai had been blocked and throttled, but he was still winning.
The science behind the insane popularity of “react” videos on YouTube Dinah Rashid Controversial theory may explain why we love watching people experience stuff. Recently I’ve fallen in love with a horror game I’ve never even played. It’s called Five Nights at Freddy’s, and I discovered it through a series of YouTube videos. I watched as four to five players sat down at their PCs and started from the same point in the game. All I could see were their faces. Their brows furrowed, their faces wrinkled as they winced at false jump-scares, their hands flew over their mouths when some terrifying animatronic popped out and killed them—and I did all the same things along with them. I could feel the anxiety showing on their faces. I felt the weird excitement and exhilaration they got from being scared, even though I never saw a single frame of Five Nights. The videos were so much fun that I wanted more. But I didn›t download the game. Instead, I searched for more videos of people reacting to things.
Videos of people reacting to games—or commercials, or the deaths of legendary pop stars, or old-school computer software—are incredibly popular online. Lots of people make them, but the reigning champs are comedy duo Fine Brothers. Their various YouTube channels have over 20 million subscribers, and their channel devoted to nothing but reaction videos—simply titled “React”—has over 903 million views.
Recently the Fine Bros got into hot water when they tried to trademark the word “react”. It was part of their React World project, in which people pay the duo to create reaction videos. The backlash was swift and loud, and the Fine Bros backed off. Too many people are invested in making their own react videos to allow just one pair of creators to own the idea. React videos have tapped into some part of our nature that relishes watching other people experience stuff.
The (possible) mirror in our brains We could explain away the popularity of these videos as #youths being #youths and leave it at that. But science has a deeper explanation that might have to do with empathy and what are called “mirror” neurons.
1990s, a group of Italian researchers discovered that when a macaque monkey reaches for food, certain neurons light up in its brain. Those same neurons light up when the monkey sees a human reach for food, too. Later named mirror neurons, some believe these cells are active in human brains as well, but their existence is controversial. Some studiesquestion if they are present in the human brain at all, while others have found evidence of their activity but can›t say for sure how they work in humans.
If mirror neurons do exist and contribute to our emotions, they could explain why we get anxious when we
see someone else get anxious. USC neuroscientist Lisa Aziz-Zadeh told Ars via email that mirror neurons could be one reason why we enjoy watching other people do things, like trying to stifle uncontrollable laughter or playing Star Wars: Battlefront for the first time. «Mirror neurons are active both when you pick up a cup and when you see someone else pick up a cup,” says Dr. Aziz-Zadeh. “As mirror neurons support a system that could simulate other people’s actions onto one’s own motor representations, it is thought that they contribute to social understanding.”
Mirror neurons could explain why we feel empathy. “By putting ‘self’ and ‘other’ on the same neural architecture, it has been postulated to be a neural architecture which may support social understanding and contribute to empathic processing,” Aziz-Zadeh says. “But other brain regions are probably involved as well.”
Bingeing on emotions
Empathy may be another reason react videos are so easy to watch. Most viral things on the Internet are easily digested, either due to subject matter (the sillier the better) or duration (the shorter the better). React videos are neither the shortest videos online nor are their topics always funny. Instead, their digestibility comes from recognizable emotion.
Andrea Weinstein, a clinical psychologist and psychology doctoral intern at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, told Ars that as social creatures, humans crave understandable emotions because that›s how we create social bonds. «I would imagine when we›re watching people react, it›s such an easy-to-translate response,» Weinstein says. «When you watch someone react to something with a big response, it›s much easier to empathize with them because you know exactly what they›re feeling.
We’ve all had passive-aggressive friends who are difficult to be around because we can’t read them. Unrecognizable emotion is just one way social bonds break down. In turn, clear emotions help us relate to other
people, even strangers on a computer screen. “We feel immediately bonded to them because we say, ‘Yep, I would have that reaction, too’,” Weinstein says. “You feel like you’ve been heard in some way because you’ve bonded with them.” React videos provide a two-fold experience: we feel satisfied because we know the emotions being conveyed in the video, and we bond with the reactor because we can share their emotions. Maybe that’s why we can so easily forgo work and responsibilities and fall into a YouTube bingewatching hole. Take my personal Five Nights at Freddy’sexperience: I had already created a social bond with the people in the first video, and I got scared by the game along with them. Of course I wanted to keep watching after that. They understood me and I understood them... they just got me.
“Hey, you’re just like me!” This is what I like to call the “just like me” factor. This is why, in addition to react videos, we love watching proposal videos or watching someone spectacularly wipe out—and why we cry and cringe while doing so. We see ourselves in the person being recorded, and we empathize. Weinstein describes this feeling as «mutual knowing.» Many YouTube sub-communities base their existence on the «just like me» factor.
React videos are only one genre of video that has a hardcore following—gaming and beauty also attract huge communities loyal to those creators and the videos they produce. That “you’re just like me” feeling you get when you watch a react video is similar to what a gamer feels when he or she watches a video of PewDiePie stumble through Best Horror Game Ever (?).
So while we might not be able to fully understand where empathetic feelings come from in our brains, we can say that something in our heads gets triggered when we relate to someone else. In a way, YouTube is based on that feeling—many of the most popular YouTube creators are those that viewers can relate to the most, whether it›s due to age, gender, sense of humor, or passions. As online video continues to grow, that feeling of familiarity will be what keeps react-style videos around for the long haul.
What Is Ramadan?
Muslims fast during the day during Ramadan. After the sun sets at the end of each day, the fast is typically broken with water and dates. Hoda Al-Gahattany Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year in Islamic culture. Muslims observe the month of Ramadan, to mark that Allah, or God, gave the first chapters of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad in 610, according to theÂ Times of India. During Ramadan, Muslims fast, abstain from pleasures and pray to become closer to God. It is also a time for families to gather and celebrate.
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar calendar based on the cycles of the moon. Observances begin the morning after the crescent moon is visibly sighted, marking the beginning of the new month. Traditionally, people searched for the slight crescent using the naked eye, which has led to the declaration of different starting times for Ramadan, due to weather or geography. In order to have a more consistent start time for Muslims around the world, however, astronomical calculations are now sometimes used. Using science to mark the beginning of the month is controversial, however, and in many parts of the world, Ramadan still does not begin until religious leaders announce thatÂ they have
personally seen the crescent moon, according to Holidays.net.
In 2018, Ramadan will begin at sunset on May 15 as Muslims search for the crescent moon, according to the Islamic Networks Group. Fasting begins the next day. In upcoming years, it will begin on May 5, 2019; April 23, 2020; and April 12, 2021.
Powerful symbol of unity The observance of Ramadan is very personal and individual and is a time for “sacrifice and renunciation as well as a period of reflection and spiritual growth,” Florian Pohl, associate professor of religion at Oxford College of Emory University, told us. Pohl added that Ramadan is also a powerful symbol of unity, with Muslims around the world fasting simultaneously while bringing family and friends together.
Imam Ossama Bahloul, resident scholar of the Islamic Center of Nashville, said that when he hears about Ramadan, “joy comes to my mind with the memories of my mother and father and the impact it had on our home. ... It continues to be an absolute joy.”
When Ramadan arrives, Yushau Sodiq, associate professor of religion and Islamic studies at Texas Christian University, feels “thrilled, because I am expecting it just like any other Muslim,” and uses the celebration to further connect himself to God and to services within his community. Ramadan is a time when Muslims from all over the world come together. Sodiq said that in the United States, for example, some community mosques host Muslims from as many as 30 or 40 countries. Pohl said that it is also growing more common for people from various religions to come together during Ramadan to learn more about each other’s cultures.
Fasting: the fourth pillar of Islam Fasting during Ramadan is the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam. These pillars, or duties, form the basis of how Muslims practice their religion. According to Islam Guide, the Pillars of Islam are: •
Shahada: faith in the Islam religion,
Salat: pray five times per day facing the direction of Mecca,
Zakat: give support to the needy,
Sawm: fast during Ramadan, and
Hajj: make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during one’s lifetime.
During Ramadan, observant Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Fasting is not only about abstaining from food and drink: Muslims must also refrain from smoking, taking oral medications and engaging in sexual activities, as well as gossip, fighting and lying. Bahloul said that while it sounds difficult to abstain from eating for up to 17 or 18 hours (depending on where in the world Ramadan is celebrated), after a couple of days it becomes the norm, and it is a reminder that a person is not just a physical body but a
soul as well. Muslims practice fasting upon reaching puberty. Some people are exempted, such as those who are ill or frail; women who are pregnant, lactating or menstruating; and travelers. Bahloul said that someone who cannot fast traditionally must feed one poor person for each day missed. Fasting during Ramadan is a time for Muslims to commit themselves more to God and render “great services to the community in terms of helping the poor, assisting the needy and sharing whatever one has with others,” according to Sodiq. He added that Muslims are generally more kind, tolerant and active during Ramadan, because they tend to celebrate each Ramadan as if it were their last in order to ensure that God will pardon them for any sins they have committed. For the fasting to be valid, a serious intention, or niyyah, must be made to fast and adhere to the laws surrounding the fast. The commitment must be made each day before dawn. The fast will be considered to be nullifiedif one eats or drinks, intentionally vomits, has sexual intercourse or has menstrual or childbirth bleeding, according to Mohamed Baianonie, former imam of the Islamic Center of Raleigh, North Carolina. If the fast is broken, the fast must be made up for at a later date. According to Sodiq, as long as one’s fast is not broken intentionally, God will forgive the individual. In some Muslim communities, there is a growing stigma associated with eating in public, according to Pohl, due an increase in public awareness and piety. In addition to fasting, piety is also measured by participation in other practices, including the five daily prayers; and engaging in zakat, or acts of kindness and charity.
Breaking the fast Muslims intending to fast wake up early and eat a light meal, known as suhoor, before dawn. Suhoor is typically consumed about half an hour before dawn, in time for the fajr, or morning, prayer, according to the IslamiCity news website. After the sun fully sets at the end of each day, the person typically breaks his or her fast with water and dates, followed by prayers and then a meal called iftar. Many mosques around the world host interfaith celebrations to break the fast, according to Pohl. This allows everyone to reflect on shared experiences within their own traditions involving fasting, including spiritual growth and social responsibility. “On several occasions,” Pohl said, “I have had Christian participants in these events tell me that they have regained an appreciation and deeper understanding of similar practices in their own faith traditions, such as during the Advent season or Lent.” At the end of Ramadan, a three-day spiritual celebration known as Eid al-Fitr occurs. During this time, Muslims rejoice in the completion of the fast. Family members and friends gather to share in feasts and prayers. During Eid al-Fitr, it is customary to donate to the poor and disadvantaged. During the three days, Muslims attend prayers in the morning, and then visit family, friends, neighbors, the sick and the elderly. Feasts are shared with family and friends and small gifts are given; it’s socially similar to Christmas in the United States, according to Pohl.
Guadeloupe Island Tourism
Alyse Raboff It had been 10 months since I had last set foot on Guadeloupe Island, an overseas territory of France tucked between Dominica and Monserrat in the West Indies Caribbean, where I lived the past year as an English teacher. You may have never heard of Guadeloupe. I hadn’t, until taking a French modern culture course in college. Part of the beauty of Guadeloupe is its inconspicuous nature, an adjective difficult to assign to a Caribbean island, which is typically flooded with tourists and expensive hotels. Guadeloupe is well known to the French, but not yet to Americans. This will most likely soon change given Norwegian Airlines cheap nonstop flights running daily from New York during the high tourist season (October-April). I managed to snag a flight with two American friends last month, in order to return to the island that I once called home. We touched down on one of the two islands composing Guadeloupe, Grand-Terre, a relatively flat limestone based island, skirted with white sand beaches, crystal clear water, a plethora of great undiscovered surf spots, and remarkable sea cliffs to the north.
We were immediately hit, and shocked by the warm, humid air as we descended the airplane, having left New York in 30 degree weather. My local friend met us in the airport pickup lane and we ventured toward her home in Gosier, a large town towards the center of the islands. Her yard was filled with beautiful flora and a few Gwada cats cruising around her patio. She and her housemates had adopted them, or rather, the cats had adopted my friend. “Did you hear what happened to Vince?- the other day a cow ended up in his pool,” she laughed as she told me. “They had to call the pompiers (firemen).” After a sluggish next morning, we set toward Pointe de Chateaux, reached by driving past St Francois onto a a thin outcrop bordered by the sea and intermittent estuaries. A pathway leads up to a large cross placed on top of a thin sea cliff, offering a clear view of the entire Guadeloupe island, as well as some of the smaller surrounding islets. Underneath the cross, there are typically red candles, and if you look closely, bird feathers left behind from a recent religious sacrifice, occasionally
performed at night. We descended the cliff, and drove to a nearby expansive beach, Anse a la Gourde, where one can swim, snorkel and cover oneself in natural mud that seeps from underneath the sand in a pocket near the sea, protected by a reef shelf.
The following morning we rose just after 5 AM, in order to beat the traffic and head to Guadeloupe’s second island, BasseTerre, home to la Soufrière, the active and alluring volcano, complete with sulfuric steam and bright orange and yellow mosses that grew after a biological explosion in 1976. The day was forecast to be unusually clear, so climbing the volcano became a priority. As we sped over the small bridge connecting the two islands (which is easy to miss), we headed into the naturally stunning island, filled with many waterfalls of various difficulty to access, natural hot pools, and some of the best diving, at the Marine sanctuary easily reached by kayak off Bouillante, a small town on the west coast. The day’s forecast held true, and the views from la Soufriere were some of the best I had ever seen, meaning we didn’t mind that the thin path was filled with tourist (we even saw an American couple we met on the plane!). We ended the day with a late lunch at one of my old co-workers home, nestled on the volcano hillside in St Claude, enjoying traditional Guadleoupean accras (like fish hush puppies) and fish salad before turning in early to our air bnb in Petit Bourg. As the trip went on and we continued to travel the island, I was reminded of the complexity of Guadeloupean culture, which is Caribbean with heavy French influence. This is present in visible aspects, such as the roads, street signs and grocery stores as well as more subtly, such as in the food, the language (Guadeloupeans speak only French in school and professionally, and a mix of French and Creole socially), and way of life. The economics of the island are still primarily controlled by the béké, the descendants of the slave owners who are said to keep to themselves in communities on Grand Terre, and keep the prices (and unemployment) high. Some argue that the French influence has been more detrimental than positive, manifesting a materialism and entitlement in the society not present on other Caribbean islands. The number of Audis and BMWs flying down the highways is a stark contrast to the elderly banana farmers hobbling down the more deserted roads. There is a pocket of Guadeloupeans who post independence flags outside their home, and meet monthly to discuss building the movement, whose success most others skepticize. Others view France as a life line and embrace french culture, evidenced by the number of boulangeries between the palm trees. While watching the sunset on the beach at the Plage du Souffleur in Port Louis on our last day, I reflected how it is Guadeloupe’s complicated history that in a way make it such an engaging and salient travel destination. And if exploring culture/ history isn’t your priority, there are too many beaches to choose from to spend the day, sipping Caribs or planteurs (local rum
and fruit drink). Below you can find a list of places to stay and things to do. Grand-Terre Things to do: Pointe de Chateaux (St Francois), Porte d’Enfer (Anse de Bertrand/Moule), Memoiral Acte (Pointe a Pitre). Beaches: Petit-Havre, Plage de la Caravelle (St Anne), Anse a la Gourde (St Francois), Plage du Souffleur (Port Louis), Plage de Bois Jolan (St Anne), Bananier (Basse Terre). Surf spots: Petit-Havre, Moule, Anse Sabouelle (Moule), Anse du Souffleur (Port Louis), St Francois (the port). Basse-Terre: Things to do: La Soufriere (the volcano), Saut de Lezarde (waterfall), Chutes de Carbet (6 separate waterfalls of various difficulty to access), Saut de Ecrevisse (waterfall on the Route de Traversee), Deshaies botanical gardens, Bassin Paradis (St Claude), Bassin Bleu (Gourbeyre). Beaches: Grande Anse (Deshaies), Plage de la Perle (St Rose), Trois Rivières. Other islands to visit: Les Saintes (a short boat ride from Trois Rivières- can take a trip for the day, or stay a night. The most efficient way to travel is rent scooters or a golf cart). Marie Galante (stay for a couple days and rent bikes in order to move around the relatively flat island).