Tag Archives: science

Why Millennials Have Trust Issues

Yesterday I read yet another article analyzing the actions and reactions of my generation, Millennials.

First and foremost, I’d like Regina George to speak to marketers and people of other generations on behalf of my people:
I mean we’re the most-studied generation. There have even been studies on that.
Anyway, here’s the inciting article: Why Millennials Don’t Trust Anything
Before even reading the article, I answered the headline’s implied question: Because we haven’t been given a really good reason why we should?
 
Let’s see:
  • Banks: Bunch of high-profile banking scandals blended thoroughly with a multitude of really terrible customer service experiences. Oh, and that little thing we’ll call the mortgage crisis of 2008.
  • Jobs: Our parents/we have seen too many cases where “loyal” people who gave their all to a company were summarily fired/had their benefits reduced. Doesn’t seem like the loyalty is reciprocated. Compound that with the many folk who are trained for a professional career but can’t find work in their area.
  • Owning a Home: It’s hard to own a home when you’re having job and money-related issues. And we’re prudent enough to be mistrustful in case we get trapped in the next wave of housing issues: no one wants to be “underwater.”
  • Marriage: It’s really expensive, everyone keeps telling us that we’re going to get divorced anyway (even though that statistic isn’t accurate), and we also want to feel “settled” as adults before we make a really adult financial decision.
  • Medical costs: They just suck. And all the very loud, loosely-fact-based political nonsense in the news doesn’t make anyone feel better.
  • The Environment: We’re still having fights about climate change. That’s just silly. Even if you “disagree” with the scientific fact about it, can’t we agree that it’s a good idea not to pollute?
  • Social Issues: A lot of young people (not all, I’ll say, with probability, but a lot) grew up with messages of acceptance and compassion for others (thanks, Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers!). Personally, I’ve been really disappointed in how this kind of stuff plays out in the real world, and how much intolerance there is, over really trivial crap. (I’m not even talking about Big Issues, necessarily. Even the level of “what game console do you play on?” can be fraught!) Plus there has been an awful lot of really bad stuff going on socio-politically around the world. I want to believe in Sesame Street‘s messages, but it sometimes feels like the world doesn’t want to agree with me.
So, this article in particular talks about “our” trust in blogs over traditional media. I’m a pretty big advocate for “traditional media,” having come from there education-wise. But it’s getting harder and harder to lobby on their side: I’m looking at you in particular, TV news.
That said, this is one thing I’ll disagree with: I trust traditional news sources for their veracity over blogs 95% of the time. Particularly on fact-related issues. I got in an argument with someone yesterday about a particular trendy news item, and posted a link to the New York Times. He posted back a link to an editorial on a website that sells crap…and called the NYTimes biased. Holy cow, that’s crazy.
I will say I go to blogs for more colorful types of reading, the types of things that used to be covered in the “Features” or “Lifestyles” sections of a newspaper. But sadly, that probably comes from a) the proliferation of those kinds of blogs and b) the fact that that department was the first to go when newspapers started getting budget cuts.
Do I think we’re “bashing tradition,” as the article says? Hell no. I think we’re just reacting in a very rational way.
What do you think? Is your generation maligned in articles? How?
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Review: Medusa’s Gaze and Vampire’s Bite

Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite: The Science of MonstersMedusa’s Gaze and Vampire’s Bite: The Science of Monsters by Matt Kaplan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had really looked forward to this book. Mythical monsters plus informative history, what’s not to love? I bought it for my husband as a gift and was delighted when I found it idling on his nightstand. But now I see why. It’s interesting in places, sure (hey, wanna read some kooky accounts about real zombies? I know I do!) but it’s a struggle to hold your interest. The story is artificially paced (why start an explanation with the wrong answer only to correct it a page later?), leans heavily on modern movies, and cherry picks when it will refer to social sciences.

If you love mythical beasts and know much about Greco-Roman literature, you’re going to come away from this book bored and/or annoyed.

The problem seems to stem from author Matt Kaplan’s unyielding insistence on two things: 1) all mythical beasts must be directly related to something observed in the natural world, and 2) once science has a logical explanation for something, it ceases to be frightening. I disagree with him on both counts.

While I agree that the original storytellers probably did see something that sparked a story in their minds, I disagree that there has to be some kind of one-to-one relationship. For example, Kaplan explains in length that massive boar mentioned in Greek mythology probably never existed, that there is no evidence of an actual super-boar who was impervious to weapons. I believe I speak for all the readers when I say: “no shit.” But why would there even have to be? Is it such a stretch to believe and accept that a creative thinker might have concocted the story entirely?

The boar and the Nemean lion, are, of course, just the most basic examples. I don’t need to believe anything remotely chimeric actually existed for me to believe that a storyteller could come up with the idea. Why the concept that a person found a pile of mismatched fossils in a stream bed and came to believe it was a terrible monster, is it not just as plausible that a storyteller looked around and invented the creature from the characteristics of other natural beasts? That perhaps this explanation came not from literal physical creatures but from symbolism? (Medusa is a great example as a symbol: a woman so beautiful she attracts a god’s unwanted assault is reborn–hence snakes–into a monster who drives all men away and can destroy them with but a look. We don’t need actual snake-haired people!)

I guess I’m offended that Kaplan has left so little room for human ingenuity. Particularly when there is so much evidence of it all around.

My second issue is that he believes people aren’t afraid of monsters that no longer seem realistic thanks to scientific discoveries. Perhaps they aren’t as prominent as monsters as we discover new things to be afraid of, but that discounts the many people who ARE afraid of those things and context. What do I mean by context? I mean, yes, if you ask me in the middle of the day what I’m afraid of, a big scary animal is not going to be the top of my list. But you bet when I’m in the dark in the woods I suddenly begin imagining I’m being stalked by a huge and terrifying predator (despite knowing full-well in my human brain how unlikely it is that a tiger is stalking me in the parking lot). Most irksome is that Kaplan’s evidence for the lack of fear-factor is overwhelmingly modern TV and movies. … Except he’s not watching the same stuff I am, apparently. I mean, Supernatural has many frightening episodes and chilling stories, for example, and I know it’s fiction. Just because Twilight told a different, non-scary story about vampires does not mean that the vampires in True Blood aren’t decidedly scary (ok, in moments. That show is all over the place). And Interview with a Vampire, which he cites in the book, was quite scary to me!

So I don’t know. I think this book might be a good lazy read for a TV and movie buff who has a light interest in Classics, or maybe for the Classics nerd who wants something different. But I don’t recommend seeking a deep understanding or passion from this monster montage.

View all my reviews


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Kids Aren’t Reading (Because They’re Reading All The Time)

Another day, another spate of articles bemoaning the state of today’s youth. This most recent is a bunching of studies that found that kids aren’t reading as much.

NPR put it this way: “Nearly half of 17-year-olds say they read for pleasure no more than one or two times a year — if that.That’s way down from a decade ago.”

GASP! The horror! Let’s trot out the motifs of the way this generation is RUINED FOREVER!

…but wait. It said “read for pleasure.” Hold the phone there. Perhaps there is another, different explanation beyond “the internet/video games/drugs/television did it.”

Terrifyingly, I’m now old enough to be considered part of the “adult” quotient, but I was in high school not too terribly long ago, and I can tell you something: there was a lot of required reading. And I like to read! I read all the time! But, during the school year, my reading fell to being mostly required reading.

And let me tell you, reading the Crucible for the fourth time in the same year (“to really understand the text” *gag*) gets really old and I would not consider that enjoyable!

So that’s me, a kid who loves reading and literally never leaves the house without a book. When I was 17, I wouldn’t necessarily have said reading was “pleasurable” either: I was maxed out, and, yeah, preferred to play video games or watch TV. How must it be for the kids who are ONLY exposed to school reading? They never get the opportunity to develop a fondness for reading because they’ve been conditioned to view it as work full of meaningless “symbolism.” (yes, I’m still scarred from “The Scarlet Letter.” Sometimes a tree is just a freakin’ tree, teach!)

In an increasingly technological society, I find it hard to believe that kids are not reading in general. We’re all reading and writing MORE than ever, with so much communication switching away from in-person or on the phone to texting, email, status updates, and online forums. It’s becoming MORE important, but that kind of reading and writing wouldn’t show up in these studies.

Essentially, I think the problem here is not with teens and reading for pleasure, but with the studies. I DO think there are probably plenty of things to distract kids from reading, but those things could be bolstered not by writing ominous-sounding articles about “kids today” but instead folding more “fun” books into required reading. As much as I loved “A Handmaid’s Tale,” would it kill school districts to allow some trendy stuff–maybe middle schoolers would really benefit from doing an analysis of “The Hunger Games” instead of a nonfiction book for a change.

What do you think? Should we be worried about teen reading levels?

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Someone To Rely On

This time last year, a friend of mine was breathing with new lungs. His life was held in the balance, and it was yet to be seen if his body would accept someone else’s organs or if he would die. (I wrote this short story in his honor.)

My friend/former teacher has cystic fibrosis, and medical science said he should have died a long while ago. But he was lucky enough to live in a part of the country where researchers were actively studying CF, and was employed as a teacher with understanding bosses who made it work even when he was struggling.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder where the lungs slowly, inevitably, fill with mucus and fluid. Essentially, it’s drowning from the inside out. It was terrifying to watch. Just over a year ago, my friend was knocking on the pearly gates. His skin had a grey pallor; he hauled an oxygen tank around with him everywhere he went and had a bone-rattling cough; he was so thin his pants sagged where the belt was tied and his bones showed under his skin.

But David received a miracle: he was given the gift of new lungs, via a “risky” lung transplant.

And the reason he got those lungs, those incredible, life-saving lungs, was because he had a community.

This Sunday he told the members of the church we attend that it was our contribution that helped get him the lungs. See, there are a lot of people who desperately need a second chance, but for some stupid reason you have to opt-in to be an organ donor, rather than the much more logical and efficient opt-out method (seriously: sign up to be an organ donor. You won’t need those parts after you are gone, and you could literally save a life). So to pick who will get lungs, in this case, there is a long list of criteria, and those on the list are ordered in terms of crisis. You can’t get on the list unless you will literally die without a transplant, but you have to be really close to dying to actually get it. It’s crazy, and frightening to watch.

But one of the criteria was a support group. And my church was that support group for David. Even though his family lives out of town, our church was there to help him. After a lung transplant, you can’t do a lot. They pried his chest apart and took out organs, then slapped some new ones in there. It’s not an easy recovery. But the hospital is too dangerous a place to stay, since David has to take a battery of drugs just so his own body won’t attack the new lungs. Basically, it was all too easy for David to get sick.

So David needed someone to care for him but couldn’t be at the hospital. His parents did eventually make it to town, and they did a lot of the day-to-day stuff. But members of our church filled in the gaps, provided meals, provided company, wrote notes, prayed, sat with him in the hospital, and–recently–took him to and from his 1-year anniversary checkup (he has 103% lung capacity now!)

It really hammered home, for me, how important it is that we build a community for ourselves. It’s so easy–so incredibly easy–now to live in isolation. Self-imposed isolation where we connect mostly online and don’t have a lot of face-to-face interaction. And I get it: I’m home alone now as I write this, and I’d be annoyed as heck if someone else where here. I need space to think.

But we need balance, too. Because someday, God forbid, we might need help. We might need that community. And that’s the kind of help you can’t find at the last minute. You have to plant those seeds early.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not always good at that. But I am grateful for David’s reminder: not just that there are miracles in this world, and that we can’t take a single breath for granted, but also that we need other people. I’m going to work on my community. I hope you’ll take a moment to show your appreciation for yours.

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If You “Don’t Read,” I’m Judging You

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 23% of Americans did not read a single book in the last year.
And I am judging every one of them.
(Okay, actually, not all of them. America has a surprisingly low literacy rate for a developed nation, and it’s absolutely tragic how people in an industrialized country like ours could have been deprived of this vital skill, which basically dooms them to minimum wage jobs. NPR had a brilliant report on it. I tried to volunteer for an adult-reading program, but apparently this kind of work wasn’t compatible with my 9-5 job.Those people? I do not judge those people. I am sorry we failed them as a community.)
If you are a competent, reasonably educated person–as most folks in America are–then I 100% judge you and think you are less competent if you aren’t opening a book, turning on a Kindle, or otherwise taking time to read something other than your work emails.
The Atlantic article shows that the 23% non-book-reading rate has actually held from the last time the poll was completed, so in 2012 AND in 2014, about a quarter of the population hadn’t read a single book in a year.
The reddit conversation about this report raised good questions: What counts as a book? Are we just talking adult fiction? Would the training manual for work qualify? How about “Hop on Pop” that I read to my kid?
I don’t know the answers to that, but my answers would be: maybe yes, if you actually read it and didn’t skim; and probably no, but chapter books should totally count.
Another set of comments suggested that it didn’t matter because people were reading more than ever, just not books–reading news online, reading personal correspondence, reading magazines. They contend that therefore, it doesn’t matter that people aren’t reading books. I disagree. We’ll get to that in a minute.
The study also reports that only a quarter of people said they had read more than 11 books in a year–not a high sum, and that means that most people (about 50%) have read between 1 and 10 books in a year, far less than one a month.
Last year, I used Goodreads to track my reading, and surprised myself to find that I read more than 30 books last year. I didn’t even find it to be that hard; after all, I’m a fairly busy person. I guess the only thing I do differently from others is that I don’t watch TV…but even then, I watch a show or movie on Netflix several times a week, so I still have an affinity for the boob tube.
(The Atlantic story dug in a little deeper to suggest that because more people are graduating college, more people will likely be readers later on. Maybe. I certainly hope so.)
But–all those non-readers: I’m judging you. I am judging you for your shallow appreciation for fine literature, for an experience that literally takes you out of yourself and teaches you to empathize for others; to allow you to be anyone you could imagine (or can’t imagine!); to teach you new words and concepts that are beyond your ken. Reading unlocks worlds, both within you and outside of you, and I think you are a pathetic person if you can’t be bothered to even read ONE BOOK in a year.
I don’t even care what it is–Young Adult books have seen a surge recently, and it ain’t just kids reading those. Some YA books are my favorites! It’s a great way to escape adult pressures.
Why don’t magazines and online reading count? Basically, they are too short and don’t provide that escapism or empathy portion that you get from complex storylines in a novel or nonfiction work. There isn’t sufficient complexity. I mean, the average newspaper (and magazine) is written at the 8th grade level. That’s not a very high bar. You can do better! Stretch your mind! It will make you more interesting. I am full of random tidbits and knowledge picked up in a book somewhere along the lines!
And the time thing isn’t really an excuse; you’re just not trying. I read before bed. I also bring a book to lunch with me, in case my coworkers are busy. Reading while eating is far better than just eating alone because you got ditched for a meeting!
One of my favorite college professors recently declared on Facebook that she read 177 books a in the last year! That’s incredible! I mean, I felt accomplished with 30! I told her that Stephen King claims to read 70 books a year, so clearly she needs to start writing.
Reading is good for the soul and the mind. Go pick up a book, you lazy louts.

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The Battle of the Sexes Will Be Won By Robots

A dude promoted his book last week by publishing a long, bloated, purple prose opinion piece in The New York Times Sunday Review that set out to solve the gender gap in who has to do the housework.

His brilliant “answer”? Men don’t want to do housework because housework sucks, so women should just not care about whether the housework gets done or not. No one wants to do it, so women should just do enough and then stop whining.
Unsurprisingly, that answer didn’t sit well with a lot of folks.

Rosie the Robot Poster by Tim Goldman

Beautiful poster from timgoldman.com

But I’m a fan of speculative fiction, so I have the answer: Robots.

Obviously we aren’t quite there yet, but pretty much everyone can agree that basic, boring house chores are both essential and absolutely craptastic to have to do. If men don’t want to step up (plenty do, book-selling NYT guy!), and women are sick of doing it, we need a third option.

If you haven’t yet seen “Robot & Frank,” head out and rent it/Netflix it pronto. That’s the kind of robot I’m talking about. Or basically a non-sassy Rosie. Or a super-powered Roomba. Something that will clean the floors, remember to do the dishes, wipe down the countertops, dust the shelves, maybe water that peace lily you cherish. Nothing fancy.

Sure, we’ve made some art/movies/books about how these domestic robots would be a problem, but really, I think they’re the answer. They wouldn’t replace many jobs — in fact, it may elevate those butlers and housecleaners to a higher-pay position, because having a human housekeeper would become a status symbol. And we’re a really long way off from autonomous robots, so the first tiers of these helper-bots would be pretty limited, and therefore not a serious threat to human jobs.

But if we want that — and I think we can agree, we ALL want that — we are going to need some clever lady engineers to get on that for us.

Why lady engineers, do you ask? Before you cry sexism, just look at history: most of the time-saving housekeeping products we rely on today were invented by women (even if they themselves didn’t do much in the way of housework).

  • Cannister Vacuum, Nancy Perkins, 1987
  • Cooking Stove, Elizabeth Hawk, 1867
  • Dishwasher, Josephine Cochran, 1872
  • Electric Hot Water Heater, Ida Forbes, 1917
  • Mop-Wringer Pail, Eliza Wood, 1889
  • Refrigerator, Florence Parpart, 1914
  • Washing machine, Margaret Colvin, 1871
  • The Practical Kitchen layout, Lillian Gilbreth, 1920s
  • Scotchguard, Patsy Sherman, 1952
  • Improved Ironing Board, Sarah Boone, 1892
  • Vacuum canning and oil burners, Amanda Jones, 1880s
  • Gas heating furnace, Alice Parker, 1919

Really, I don’t care who invents our perfect butler-bots, but history implies it’s going to be a woman. Ladies, just let me know when I can place my order, okay?

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Science of Pacific Rim

This is exactly what I wanted after I saw Pacific Rim. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the movie. I think it’s the best movie all summer, and there have been a lot of really good movies this summer! It’s particularly good if you’re up for the most destruction ever in a movie, and are interested in giant robots fighting giant aliens. (You know you are).

But me? Give me the jaeger with the alloy metal!

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July 27, 2013 · 10:00 am