Morning Ed: Society {2017.12.13.W}

[So1] YouTube Kids is just an ocean of oddity. My little girl is just fascinated watching grownups play with figures. But nothing weirder than that, thankfully.

[So2] Kristen Berman and Dan Ariely want to ban small talk with the notion that doing so would force us to discuss more important things.

[So3] Teens are anonymously targeting themselves on line for reasons that I guess kind of make sense in a way and everything is messed up.

[So4] Crispin Sartwell takes aim at the Muppets, and Sesame Street. I notice that he leaves Curious George off his list of ire. Which is smart, because Curious George is by far the best PBS cartoon. Peg + Cat is also really good. Sesame Street is okay, but pretty unambitious these days.

[So5] The case against limiting yourself to writing what you know.

[So6] This is a really cool idea. I would think so, of course, since I already “audiobook” TV shows.

[So7] A couple years ago, the New York Times investigated why it’s so difficult for 30-somethings to make friends.

[So8] I wasn’t as big into Shel Silverstein as some people, but I’m still surprised I didn’t know this existed.


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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56 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Society {2017.12.13.W}

  1. So3 [cyber-self-bullying]: As someone who has struggled with self injury since I was 13,* I can say a lot of what this article talks about makes sense on an intuitive level. At least one or two years before I started to self injure, I developed and repeated to myself scripts about how worthless I was (etc., etc.), and I can certainly see why/how someone in today’s digital age would take to doing that online.

    Having said that, however, self-harm/self-injury might not be the only explanation for this phenomenon, at least for some people. As the article states, people can “anonymously send themselves hurtful messages and then publicly respond” [bold added by me]. I can imagine some people would use that as a way to defend themselves in public, as a way to say, “someone might say this about me, but here’s my response” and the response be something like a self-defense.

    *I’ve been thinking about writing a post about it, but so far, it’s just been too hard and I haven’t been able to do it.

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  2. [So7] It’s difficult for non 30 year olds to make new friends. After my divorce, I realized that a lot of my college friends had faded away. I knew that before the divorce, but it was less important. Now, newly single, it was very important. I met several nice women through dating that, for one reason or another, didn’t convert into a romantic thing, and some that did, but ended, and we’re all friends. I was very clear to future potential romantic targets that I had ex girlfriends I was still close to, and other female friends I’d met though dating and I planned to keep them in my life–it was something they’d have to deal with.

    [So2] I was at a party last saturday and got to talking to a woman about cats. She showed me hers and I showed her mine. Then we started talking about iceland. Small talk? Dunno. It was the two of us in a crowd of 50 or so, and no one else was talking about either subjects. I did talk to another woman about arizona, being outdoors, the PNW, and such. Small talk?

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  3. So5 [not writing only what you know]: I have my problems with Socrates and Plato, but the author in that piece seems to hit on the wisdom of learning to know one knows nothing. It also kind of reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s statement (I paraphrase) that he never felt so far from his faith as when he was acting as an apologist for it.

    /random riffs on the article

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  4. So2: How do you ban small talk? I suppose you can create a social taboo around it but that really isn’t going to be a real ban in the sense of legally enforceable. The entire article read like a nerd rant on why do they have to conform to social conventions and learn how to engage in socially acceptable small talk rather than have everybody conform to them and only talk about deep or interesting things.

    I’ve noticed that a lot of non-normal people really do believe the world should conform to their way of being. People engage in small talk because most people aren’t into deep philosophical or political conversations and even people who are don’t want to be on all the time or want to avoid conflict at a party that is supposed to be fun and relaxing.

    So4: While I disagree with his particular diagnosis about the Muppets and Sesame Street, I do agree with his overall point. A lot of children’s entertainment in the West is based on the idea that children must always learn something. Its why so many cartoons had a tact on moral during the 1980s. One big reason why anime and manga evolved differently from American cartoons and comics is that Japanese parents seemed to understand that kids didn’t always need to learn a lesson of some sort or at least the lesson didn’t need to be bludgeoned in like Gallagher with a sledge hammer.

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  5. So4: Synopsis: “Kids programming when I was a kid was awesome. Kids programming today sucks, though my kids think it is awesome. Also, I am too stupid or lazy to Google which programs are on PBS and which are on Nick.”

    Also: the best kids show in PBS is Word World. It doesn’t get much traction within the general culture, but it is really good. It hits the sweet spot of being engaging to kids and sufferable to adults, while being genuinely educational. I credit it with my older daughter’s being a fluent reader before she entered kindergarten.

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  6. So1: What kids watch on YouTube, given free rein, is indeed odd. Pre-adolescent girls are fascinated by teenaged girls. My daughter would be entranced by videos of a teenager talking about how she organized her school supplies. She has since moved on to teenagers giving makeup advice. This is every bit as horrifying as you would expect. When they were a bit younger, they were totally into Shopkins, which were all the rage among the early-elementary school set. What are Shopkins? Little extruded plastic figures. They essentially are movie tie-in merchandise, without the trouble of an actual movie. They were marketed by teenagers (I assume paid shills) making YouTube videos. The prices are low enough that parents tend to be willing to go along with it, but being bits of extruded plastic I assume the profit margin is impressive. All in all, kind of brilliant, and largely under the cultural radar.

    Then there is the whole genre of videos of video game play, typically with audio commentary by the players. Both of my girls are enthralled by these, typically playing Minecraft. These seem to be independent operations, and I gather that if your wiling to devote your entire life around producing content you can make a living income off it. It sounds horrid to me, but to each his own.

    I had at an early age discussions with both kids about people trying to sell you stuff and the benefits of healthy skepticism. It did not make them immune to marketing sirens, but it at least gave us a vocabulary to discuss the topic.

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    • I vaguely remember girls in my elementary school class being fascinated with mid to late teenage girls in a similar way. Its like they couldn’t wait to be teenagers. I don’t remember any boy being that interested with what teenage boys were doing at all. They were irrelevant as anything but older siblings, relatives, or friends of family.

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      • Teenage males are largely just male kids with more freedom to do stuff that male kids already like to do, while there’s a lot more aspirational to teenagehood for girl, partly driven by media, but also partly driven by the differences in what their lives are like.

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        • Perhaps in support of your point, I’ve noticed that teenage boys who aren’t just goofs but have a bunch of goals, interests, leadership skills, etc., tend to attract 5-10 year old boys and girls, both, like flies to honey.

          (I’ve mostly noticed this in sports / tae kwondo contexts, but it was also apparent in situations like having older teenagers come in to read to 1st and 2nd graders in my mom’s library…. everyone was fine and comfortable with teenage girls, for sure, but let a teenage boy show up and the room was generally in an awed tizzy.)

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        • Maybe I was a weird boy but I spent a good part of being an early adolescent and teenager looking at Gen X entertainment (Real World: Los Angeles and San Francisco, Reality Bytes, Singles) and thinking “This is what adult life is going to be like! Awesome!!”

          It turned out to be true and very untrue in ways that are hard to describe.

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        • No kidding. What a weird little game to go so wildly popular.

          It’s fun watching what my nephew finds amusing. Minecraft remains his staple, but Goat Simulator he likes, and he’s taken to “The Escapists” (which is, I think, some 16 bit heist game?).

          Meanwhile I’m trying to puzzle out the changes in Civ 6.

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            • It’s got potential, but I get confused about the districts. I like the Envoy system, it makes city states much better, but the game seems to be slow to move.

              I haven’t even tried combat beyond playing whack-a-mole with barbarians.

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              • I hate the movement system, it’s soooo slooooow. I grant you that the Envoy system on city states is a good innovation and the over all game just chugs along slowly.
                The districts could.. maybe.. work but they take up so much space and I loathe how wonders take up tiles. The developers basically decided that tall cities were no longer acceptable and now enforce sprawl. Ugh.

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                • How is the movement in Civ 6 any different to Civ 5?

                  There are two serious problems I have with Civ 6:
                  1) In the early game barbarians are numerous and belligerent. A single camp can out-produce a starting city by a factor of about 3 and scouts are impossible to catch. I though Civ 5 had the balance right, barbarians could ruin your tile improvements and pick off stray units, but they couldn’t
                  2) Religious war is extremely tedious. Its like regular war, but there are only two kinds of units and there’s no peace, so there’s no way to stop the endless tide of missionaries. I have honestly declared war just to get a break from religious war. The custom religion system is fun, but it requires too much work to stop from being converted.

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                  • They did away with rounding.
                    In both Civ V and Civ VI standard units have 2 movement points so on flat terrain they can move 2 hexes. In both Civs moving into rough terrain, hills, forests, etc… cost 2+ move (depending if a river is involved. In Civ V, though, they’d round it. If you had at least 1 movement point you could always use it. So if you moved 1 plain hex you could still get up onto that hill. In Civ VI they did away with that. You move one plains hex then you literally cannot scale the hill or cross the river until next turn when you have sufficient movement. It slows crap down massively.

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                • They lost me at districts.

                  I can well imagine the excitement emanating from some room with a whiteboard and pizza boxes about the “fun” we would all have calculating tertiary and quaternary values for tiles within the city radius… but it turns out I can barely handle primary and secondary benefits.

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        • I tend to only watch the more interesting “Let’s Play” versions, specifically for the commentary.

          It’s a lot like watching MST3K if it was about 20% jokes, and about 80% analysis and well informed criticism of plot, acting, gameplay, etc.

          I think the Minecraft ones are so explosively popular because they often show people things that can be done (and how to do them), generating ideas for the viewers. The other popular genres tend to be competitive games, which again allow viewers insight into the thought processes and tactics used by the player.

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  7. The whole small-talk thing: people would really rather have political fights break out at holiday parties or in doctor’s waiting rooms?

    (Though honestly, these days: as a non-smart-phone person – everyone is on their smart phones so no one is talking, anyway. Or at least not talking with people in the room).

    I find asking people either (a) what they enjoy doing in their free time, (b) what is the most interesting part of their career, or (c) about a favorite vacation (I wind up encountering total strangers most often when traveling) seems to work well. People like to talk about themselves.

    But more and more, people just want to look into their phones. Perhaps I need to get a smart phone….

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    • The great benefit of the smart phone revolution to me is that, tied with the invention of the Kindle, I can now sit and read a book without people thinking I am weird or antisocial. They assume I am looking at a smart phone (which I do not in fact own) and think this is totally normal.

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      • The flip side is, a few years ago, my kids saw me reading books, or the newspaper, or magazines around the house all the time. Now, they see me playing on my phone, even though i am still reading those same things. Despite constantly trying to make sure they know i am reading (modeling is important, or so I’ve heard), they can’t seem to differentiate, and I’m convinced that all they see is dad playing on this phone. Gonna have to go back to hard copy materials….

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        • I have a Kindle Paperwhite, which is only good for reading text. My kids are fully aware that if I am using the Kindle I am reading text, because they both have borrowed it. My older kid is a reader, so I keep a couple of books for her on it. My younger kid is not a recreational reader, so my Kindle is essentially a brick so far as she is concerned.

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  8. And as for So7:

    I think it’s just harder to make friends the more life-commitments you have. ESPECIALLY if you lead a life different from the “median” life where you are. If I were a woman with kids in soccer, I’d have my soccer-mom friends. But a lot of women my age, I either never see them, or, they seem vaguely suspicious of me, because I’m not married and don’t have kids.

    The last time I remember it being really easy to make friends was grad school: you were frequently stuck in a lab with a bunch of people and were there long hours, most of the folks were in their 20s and if they had a family, it was either just a spouse, or maybe a spouse and a small, portable baby. Once kids get some autonomy, the kids come first, and friends outside the family have to come second. I get that. But I still wish I had a cohort that was like me, who would be free on weekend mornings to go do stuff….

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  9. [So4] “The supposed impetus behind Sesame Street was to give a preschool-type experience to children whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to preschool.”

    No, not really. Very few kids went to a pre-school in the late 60s, it probably wasn’t until around the mid 80s that half of 3&4 year olds were in some form of pre-school (usually part-time), but only in the Northeast. During this span, black children were more likely to be in preschool as well. To put it another way, back in the day, pre-school was not the name of a school that children attended before primary education started, it was the state of childhood existence before primary education started.

    “I have a feeling that SS didn’t have much of an audience in the ghetto.”

    Check your privilege dude.

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    • I thought one of the main points of Sesame Street was to have kids who weren’t white, and who lived in apartments in cities, get to see something on TV that actually reflected their experience – not just bunches of white kids in living in suburbs with half an acre of lawn per mini-mansion.

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      • My understanding is that the idea behind Sesame Street was to try to give lower socio-economic kids some of the advantages that middle class kids from having educated parents who read to them. This didn’t work so well, in part because those middle class parents had their kids watching Sesame Street more than did the lower socio-economic kids. I know I adored the show, and doing the math this was about when it first came on. Speaking of which, a few years back we bought a DVD of the first season. It comes with a warning that it isn’t actually suitable for children. Everyone guffawed. Then we watched it. Good Lord! I totally didn’t want my kids watching this!

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        • @richard-hershberger

          When my mom was studying for her Masters in Education, she was shown an early episode of Sesame Street before it aired and she said she flipped for it but you are both right. Sesame Street was aimed at giving urban (and usually POC) kids some representation on TV. You can see this a lot more in the early episodes where they show kids playing around garbage heaps/dumps and on concrete streets instead of leafy parks.

          What did you see in the early episodes that you didn’t want your kids to watch?

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          • The frame for the first episode was a girl who had just moved in being introduced around. This was the excuse for the infodump on each character. So far, so good. But it was a male teacher showing her around and inviting her up to his apartment for cookies. It was an innocent era.

            Then there was the live action video of kids playing. This was used to illustrate vocabulary words such as “over” and “under” and “through” and so on. They were playing on a construction site. My personal favorite was showing “through” by the kids crawling through a culvert, but showing “over” with the kids racing over a rickety board laid over two saw horses was pretty good, too.

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            • The early episodes of Sesame Street are considered unsuitable most likely because they do reflect a more innocent time. Stranger Danger as such didn’t exist and kids had more independent freedom of movement. That’s why kids could play in urban vacant lots and junkyards and nobody would bat an eye.

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              • I am perfectly happy with my kids being independent. Or rather, I wish they were more so. (My wife disagrees.) I also am a big fan of rubberized surfaces on playgrounds. Independence is not, or ought not, be inconsistent with reasonable safety considerations. Crawling through culverts and playing on construction sites? Fatalities waiting to happen.

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  10. So1: Parents shouldn’t let kids (under a certain age) watch things they haven’t previously viewed. That’s just common sense. Every parent has had the experience of watching a Youtube video that goes…wrong. Of course it’s going to happen for videos that look like they’re appropriate for kids. Granted, the idea that these videos are being computer-generated is creepy. But if you turn off autoplay and don’t yield your parenting responsibility to a search engine, it won’t be a problem.

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      • I think Ross is wrong and/or in deep denial.

        Now admittedly the Jones victory is very small but I do think that Jones did better than average with white Alabamans because of the GOP unpopularity but Ross D won’t be convinced of this easily.

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        • Given a brain-off between Yglesias and Douthat, I am putting my money on Yglesias. And I’m not actually all that impressed by him.

          Edit: Here is Nate Silver’s take: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/republicans-shouldnt-assume-roy-moore-was-an-outlier/. He breaks the 30 point swing down to one-third being national political environment, one-third being Moore’s long-known history as a batshit loon, and one-third to his previously less well known history as a pedo creep.

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          • I don’t see how the Silver essay contradicts Yglesias essay. Part of “national political environment” is everyone hates the GOP agenda. I don’t think Yglesias was denying Moore was hurt by the other two factors as well.

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          • Wait, did I miss the Pundit Fantasy League draft, because I totally have Douthat ranked way higher than Yglesias and I may want to sandbag a bit…

            But I’m not seeing how any of you are getting some sort of vibe from Douthat that disagrees with anything you’re draft picks say:

            So while Moore’s defeat is, yes, specific to him, specific to the statutory rape accusations and all the rest of his problems as a candidate, it’s also a pretty clear foretaste of what you get when you distill white identity politics to a nasty essence and then try to build a coalition around it. You get massive Democratic turnout, black turnout in particular, slumping Republican turnout, and a whole lot of write-in votes from people who should be your supporters. You get Democrats winning elections in the most unlikely places. And you get, quite probably, a Democratic majority in the House and perhaps even the Senate.

            Even the 538 piece directly attributes 20 out of 30 points to things specific to Moore; which seems about right to me.

            I was watching the returns on CNN in a restaurant and then a hotel room last night and I couldn’t shake the feeling that as the results for Jones rolled in, the liberal pundits and media heaved a collective sigh of regret.

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            • I was watching the returns on CNN in a restaurant and then a hotel room last night and I couldn’t shake the feeling that as the results for Jones rolled in, the liberal pundits and media heaved a collective sigh of regret.

              As well they should. Despite all the talk of an unpopular President, and demographics, and the Republican Congress pushing very hard on legislation that has polled badly pretty much everywhere, this is the first time that the Democrats have shown that they can flip a significant office or legislative chamber outside their strongholds in the West and the NE urban corridor.

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