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A professor examines why her students seem to act so helpless (essay)

This essay on college students acting helpless (Chronicle of Higher Education) struck a few chords. I put a lot of time into writing my course policies and assignment instructions. The students who want to know how they can earn a 99 instead of a 95 invariably ask really good questions that arise from their close scrutiny of those documents; on the other end of the spectrum, however, I do get a fair share…

First They Got Sick, Then They Moved Into a Virtual Utopia

When my son was about five, I sat him on my lap and let him explore the world of Riven (the sequel to the point-and-click adventure Myst). I remember feeling his back muscles tense up when he approached a cave and the music got creepy. “Can I go in?” he asked. I told him he could do whatever he wanted. He turned to look at me, as if to assess…

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It’s Not “Fake News” Just Because You Disagree With It

I use the term “fake news” to refer to doctored social media posts that were never written by the purported authors, or real photos taken out of context and given new captions. Sharing such posts because they flatter your pre-conceived notions of the targets contributes to the devaluing of the truth. Politicians have put spins on news since there have been politicians. Satire has a long literary history. Tossing the…

How to Deal With 2016 Despair

Don’t let a TV screen make you live a life of fear. Be thoughtful participants, not passive consumers, in your culture. Create something. Improve something. Maybe yourself. Maybe the Wikipedia page for your hometown. Share your creation. Encourage and appreciate and critique and applaud what those in your community have created. Increase the sum total of good things in the universe by participating in the life around you. Heavy TV…

Blue Feed, Red Feed

Facebook is designed to keep your attention, not inform you with an unbiased view of the truth. If you follow people who think like you, that will affect your social media feed. If you block people who infuriate you, that will also affect your social media feed.  I hope FB develops a way that lets responsible users flag trolls, stalkers, doxxers, etc., in order to limit the damage their posts do.…

This is How Literary Fiction Teaches Us to Be Human

Practicing empathy through drama and poetry and art and games and face-to-face conversations and human acts of all kinds matters. This article covers the specific social benefits that come from reading literary fiction. Film critic Roger Ebert called movies the most powerful empathy machines, but someone with the right knowledge base can say pretty much the same thing about other genres. What we can say about the virtues of movies…